Siler City, NC – Rehearsals for “The Lottery” had barely started when the world turned upside down.
At the time, what became a global pandemic seemed more like a short pause. Nothing was canceled right away, even though the news kept getting worse day by day. And certainly nobody expected it would be more than a year before actors at Jordan-Matthews High School returned to the stage.
But it looks like that return is finally happening. Live theater is on the schedule once again.
“The Lottery,” that same play that barely went into rehearsal last spring, returns in May, pandemic permitting, with two free, outdoor performances with limited seating. And, in some ways, the pandemic and the changes it has forced in how the play will be performed actually add real gravity to what audiences will see unfold on stage.
The 30-minute, one-act play — based on a short story by Shirley Jackson and dramatized by Brainerd Duffield — begins with people assembling for a lottery. Only as events build swiftly to their climax do audiences begin to suspect the nature of the lottery. The shattering final scene has brought wide acclaim to both the short story and the play.
Director Jessica Nunn won’t say exactly how the pandemic will shape the production, but there’s no way of ignoring its impact. Because, without giving away any spoilers, there are parallels to what we’ve all been experiencing over the last year.
“Because we’ve had a year to think about this play, it holds a very different meaning now than it did before the pandemic,” says JMArts President Rose Pate, who is producing “The Lottery.” “It asks the uncomfortable question: How much will a community sacrifice to preserve their prosperity? Great theatre doesn’t have to be Shakespeare to shift the way we look at our world, and this will almost certainly change the way we view ourselves.”
Technically, things will be different as well. Most students cast last year will resume their roles, but auditions for characters played by students who graduated last year will be held virtually in late March. Rehearsals and performances will follow guidelines issued by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by Chatham County Schools to limit the coronavirus spread, which includes masks and social distancing.
Even though theater will be different than normal, everyone was anxious to return when rehearsals began on April 12. “I couldn’t wait to get back to theatre and to get back to these kids,” says Nunn, who has directed all of the Jordan-Matthews theatrical productions over the last five years. “I’ve missed both of those things very much, and I love that we will get a chance to finish what we started a year ago.”
But no one is as anxious to return to the stage as the student actors who love theater and just got started on “The Lottery” last spring before weeks-long delays turned into months and then a year. Hannah Redding, a senior who will perform the central role, was particularly glad to get the news that theater was returning. “If you know me, you know I love the stage and can’t wait to be back,” she said. “I’m extremely excited to play Tessie Hutchinson in JM’s ‘The Lottery’ this spring.”
Performances of “The Lottery” are scheduled for May 7, at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., in the outdoor courtyard at Jordan-Matthews High School between the cafeteria and main office. Tickets will be very limited due to pandemic guidelines, with reservations being accepted beginning April 26. Visit JMArts.org/events/ in April or follow JMArts on social media for more information about tickets and performances.
More information about JMArts, including a schedule of upcoming arts events and information on membership, is available online at JMArts.org