'Devastation ... and hope': WT actors to grapple with child's welfare in drama 'Luna Gale'
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
No one goes home immediately after the rehearsals for West Texas A&M University's season-opening drama Luna Gale. There are demons to be exorcised first.
The young actors play games, or sing songs. They watch YouTube videos of baby sloths. Or they just dance.
"They know that's a rule," director Callie Hisek said. "I don't have many but that's one: They need to keep it here."
"It" is the heartbreaking world of the drama's title character, a 6-month-old girl whose teenage parents, swept up in the hells of addiction, are fighting for custody of the baby against the teen girl's mother. An assertive social worker struggles to ensure that the system works, even when it seems hopelessly broken.
Luna Gale opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for a two-week run in the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre in the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex.
"It's just a beautiful play in its devastation but also in its hope. ... (But) those characters need to stay here," Hisek said. "They need to shake it off. If we don't end on a goofy not, it will stay with them."
It is, in some ways.
"I'm very out of my comfort zone," said Macy Watts, a Lubbock junior who plays Caroline, the social worker. "This is the first time I've really been pushed to my limits and learned what my limits are — in the best way possible."
Derek McDaniel agreed. He's a sophomore from San Antonio who plays the baby's meth-addicted father opposite Lubbock senior Marlee Wall as Luna Gale's mother.
"I've learned that (the child welfare system) is an extremely, extremely unforgiving system," McDaniel said. "There are kids in there, through no fault of their own, who have to deal with more than people can imagine."
Hisek brought in outside help to make sure her student actors had a realistic base of knowledge from which to draw in the show.
Social workers from Texas CASA have spent time with the cast and production team, and a young man who has aged out of the foster system spent about two hours telling them his life story.
"It was so eye-opening," said Mykelti Rhodes, a senior from Friona who plays Lourdes, an emancipated teenager in the drama who shows what life is like on the other end of the spectrum from the infant. "I got pretty emotional. He got robbed of his childhood, and I feel like Lourdes went through similar experiences. It was really emotional for me to put a face to the situation."
To help audiences make the connection between drama and reality, Hisek and the cast will host two talkback sessions with CASA workers following performances Friday and Sept. 22. They'll also team for a screening of Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope, an hour-long documentary about the biological effects of stress caused by abuse and neglect, at 6:15 p.m. Monday in the Recital Hall at the Fine Arts Complex.
"It's incredible to hear these stories and see my students' faces as they realize how lucky they are to have family support systems and to realize there are children in college who don't have those support systems," Hisek said.
In addition, the cast and crew have talked extensively about the show's message — that "these are all human beings who are flawed but also have good in them," Hisek said.
"There are no villains. They all have good in them. Their hearts are in the right place but they make wrong choices," she said. "We've talked about judgment and biases — how we become so blinded by our own belief systems that we don't recognize biases, and when they're thrown in our face, we don't know how to deal with them.
"I see these students listen and get so emotional and upset ... and they flip it," Hisek said. "They show so much compassion and want to know how they can change the world.
"They want these (foster) children to know there are people who will fight for them."
Luna Gale will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Sept. 21 to 23, plus 2:30 p.m. Sept. 24. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and free for WT faculty, staff and students. Call 806-651-2804.