The Fleeing Artists local theater troupe has the first performance in its inaugural “Plays of Tomorrow” series.
The first season will feature staged readings of four original, never-before-seen plays, written by local and regional playwrights.
The first two plays — to be performed Friday and Saturday — are “Built of Ivory” by Pharyne Stephney Gremore and “Secre(a)ts” by Kameron Schueneman, a Waukegan, Ill., high school student who has acted in local and regional theaters. This is his first play.
“Secre(a)ts” is about a family coping with the oldest daughter’s eating disorder. Also, the girl’s father is coming to terms with his sister’s death, also from an eating disorder.
Jodi Diderrich, who is directing the show, said she was drawn to the play.
“I found the topic very interesting,” she said of the drama.
Diderrich — who also directed “Shrek the Musical Jr.” at Lakeside Players last fall — jumped at the chance to work with young people in the theater again.
“Kids are so easy to work with,” she said. “They are always willing to try anything during rehearsal.”
The topic of eating disorders, she said, “boggles my mind.”
While doing research for this show, Diderrich learned “there are many different forms of anorexia. The character in this show has anorexia athletica,” an eating disorder characterized by excessive and compulsive exercise.
Laura Powell plays Anna, the mother in the show. She, too, was drawn to the play because “this is a very important topic.”
Her character, she said, “pretends as if nothing is happening, which is an interesting role to play.”
The cast features two 12-year-old actresses, playing Victoria — who has the eating disorder — and her younger sister, Mia.
Bella Muir, who plays Victoria, said she learned about eating disorders in health class at her school, Big Hollow Middle School in Round Lake, Ill.
She’s been acting since first grade; this is her first Kenosha show.
“I love the feeling of going on stage to be someone different,” she said. “And I love getting to know the other cast members.”
Grace Nelson, who plays Mia, said she “hopes people realize it isn’t a good idea to starve yourself. You should love yourself and know you can get help from people who love you.”
Nelson, who attends St. Lucy’s School in Racine, was in “Wait Until Dark” at the Racine Theatre Guild a few months ago; this is her first Kenosha show.
“I like that this show has a strong message,” she said.
When she was very young — age 2 to 4 — she had an eating disorder brought about by stomach issues.
“I thought food was bad,” she said, “but I overcame it. I hope if people see this show, they will tell other people ‘you’re beautiful no matter what, and you don’t have to starve yourself.’”
Tony Lazalde plays the father character in the show.
He said he can relate to his character’s protective feelings — his character’s daughter has an eating disorder, and his sister had died from one, too.
“I have a younger brother,” Lazalde said. “And I always worried about protecting him, so I can identify with those feelings of protectiveness.”
Lazalde — who has acted with this show’s playwright — said he is “amazed at the level of writing” from a high school student.
“I hope people come away from this show knowing ‘you’re not alone; this is not a death sentence. Don’t give up and don’t hide this’ if you have an eating disorder.”
‘Play of Tomorrow’
Alex Metalsky — one of the founders of Fleeing Artists — said the troupe received 15 scripts from 12 writers for the “Plays of Tomorrow” series.
“We selected four plays to perform,” he said. “We had two categories — one for students and one for adults. We received a lot of really good plays from all over the country.”
The other play to be performed this weekend is “Built of Ivory,” about a biracial woman who faces bigotry and discrimination from her white half-brother as their mother faces and later succumbs to a terminal illness. She is also wrestling with whether or not she should meet her biological father for the first time.