Stage lights dim for Ripley High actors

Suzette Lowe
Actors Anne Blizzard, Isaac Bays, Jane Purkey, Taylor Leaptrot, and Evan Bain pose as an ensemble one last time.

It was supposed to be a final bow for the seniors in Ripley High School’s theater department.

It was supposed to be performances that may have been seen nationwide.

It was supposed to be the last bonding experience for actors who have become close through a myriad of theatrical productions.

It wasn’t supposed to be cancelled due to a national pandemic.

The play chosen as the spring production for the theater department was “Ranked,” a musical written by David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes. Originally written for students at Granite Bay High School in California, the two teachers chose the theme of academic pressure because that is the story their students wanted to tell.

“I was disappointed for the entire cast,” theater teacher Christina Iman said. “But I was especially upset because of my seniors.”

Iman said she held out hope, intending to put the play on during the summer. But the risk factors and regulations were too great.

What made this even more special was that, due to its timely theme of pressure to rise to the top of class rankings at any cost, HBO was including it in a documentary series about the play. That documentary has now expanded to feature how this group has faced the pandemic and its effect on their academic and personal lives.

Ultimately for seniors Anne Blizzard, Jane Purkey, Evan Bain, Taylor Leaptrot, and Isaac Bays, not being able to perform together one last time was the hardest part.

Purkey was looking forward to playing Sydney Summers, a character she describes as “mean girl on the surface, but much more complex underneath.”

Reflecting on the impact that being part of the theater department has made, Purkey simply said it has changed her life.

“It’s meant everything to me,” she said. “It’s allowed me creativity on stage and in costuming. Most of all, I’ve made true friends.”

Blizzard’s character in the play, Jordan Carter, is seen as below average, not caring about class ranking due to family issues.

For Blizzard, this was not her most challenging role. That distinction belongs to the part of Ismene, the sister in “Antigone Now.”

“It ultimately was a tragedy with Antigone’s death,” she said. “I had to pull from some personal experiences, and that was pretty difficult emotionally.”

Being on stage was never where Blizzard saw herself.

“I was always in my own little bubble,” she said. “But this has helped me become more open and I’ve developed some really close relationships.”

Bain and Bays have a little different perspective on this ending to their high school theater experience.

By choice, both had smaller roles in this production.

Bays, having had much larger parts in past plays, was ready to scale back a little.

“I’ve had some intense parts in the past,” he said. “It’s been kind of nice to be in a minor role this time. But it did make me a little less invested, even though I loved being part of the ensemble.”

Bain agreed, saying, “I really felt it more for all the others than for myself.”

Being part of the theatrical world has impacted Bain’s life. He said it helped him break out of his shell.

“I didn’t have a real thick one to begin with,” he said. “But now I have almost no filter.”

Taylor Leaptrot, the newest member of this close-knit group, became involved in theater her junior year.

Leaptrot describes her character in “Ranked” as someone who didn’t really value her own worth, but whose mantra was “just breathe, you’ll be fine.”

Denial would be the best description for how Leaptrot reacted to the news that the play had been cancelled.

“I kept saying ‘no,’” she remembered. “But then, I just breathed like my character, blasted the musical’s soundtrack, and finally accepted it.”

Being part of the creative environment spurred Leaptropt’s prankster side.

“During one practice, we pretended that Jane was not real,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t react to anything she said or did. It was hilarious.”

Purkey did try to get a reaction from one of her fellow actors.

“She slapped me, but I didn’t even flinch,” Bain said proudly.

As their theater teacher, Iman has become close to her students. She remembers well what she saw in each of them.

“They’re an amazing group as a whole,” she said. “Anne started out in smaller parts, but I knew I could push her into doing more, and I was right. With Jane, she was a natural and brought a sweetness to roles, but she needed to dig deeper. Playing Antigone, she did just that.”

When speaking of Bain, Bays, and Leaptrot, Iman said the words that come to mind are curiosity and regret.

“Isaac always had a million questions,” she said. “In ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ he kept asking things, but one day it just clicked. For Evan, his curiosity led him to interest in film making and the work that goes on backstage. Taylor adapted to a variety of parts pretty easily. My regret is that I didn’t have two more years with her.”

Even though their paths after graduation will take them in many different directions, this theatrical troupe has one more plan.

“We have to come back and perform one more time,” Leaptrot said.

The others agreed with one stipulation.

“Mrs. Iman’s little girl Emily has to be the assistant director,” Purkey said. “Any time we’d get too silly on stage, she would always get us back on track. She’s the best.”

The HBO documentary, untitled at this point, is scheduled to air sometime in 2021.