SPHS Drama Ready To Premiere Will Eno’s “MIDDLETOWN”

Nick Hoffa directs an evocative play about life in a small town that is about everything all at once

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | Taylor Calva and Cole Dickey in "Middletown" at South Pasadena High School

The award-winning South Pasadena High School drama department, under the direction of Nick Hoffa, is in final preparations for the first fall play to take place in the Little Theatre on campus since 2019. The entire cast of Will Eno’s “Middletown” is made up of juniors and seniors who have never performed a play in this space that they lovingly call “home”. As he set about casting the play, Hoffa reflects, “we lost a huge crop of seniors last year who I’ve been with for the last many years and they had just incredible leadership. But all of a sudden, there were twelve new seniors who showed up, and that group from last year, which I miss dearly, had been replaced by these new voices. That was really exciting. It’s a new experience for a lot of them and it’s really exciting to see them discover what it is to do a play in the Little Theatre.”

“It’s very exciting,” says senior Taylor Calva. “We’ve been involved with drama for so long and we’re so close to Mr. Hoffa – this is like our home – so it’s so exciting that we finally get to perform here.” Senior Audrey Omidi adds, “we have built so many memories here. It’s like our place on campus to just run away from the chaos that is high school and just have a place that feels so special to all of us – we just love it.”

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | SPHS Drama officers Taylor Calva (vice president), Alexa Morales (secretary), Audrey Omidi (president), and Eugenie Borredon (producer).

The play is about “everything all at once,” says Hoffa. “It’s about the meaning of life. And it is also about the tiniest things out there – these very human moments – a birth, a death, planting a tree. When I found this, I thought this is what I’m interested in doing right now.” He says it’s an emotionally mature piece that he knew would challenge his young actors and has called this play one of the hardest they have ever done for that reason. “Having faith and subtlety to tell this big story through tiny moments requires a lot of maturity. To say to yourself as an actor that I have faith that if I just connect with my other actors and do my words, the story will unfurl. And there are some showpieces in this – we go from a tiny library to being in outer space – so it’s not this little parlor room drama. There are some fun, showy moments. But even when we’re in space, someone’s having a revelation about looking at their earth.”

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He continues, “I mean, last year “Sense and Sensibility” was just like chairs flying everywhere, “Macbeth” was swords flying, “Metamorphosis” had people jumping in water and what are the big lyrical moments? “Laramie Project” was all about telling this big docudrama story. And here’s this play, where it is about putting your hand on someone’s shoulder, and what does that mean in that moment? And that’s been a very different experience. It’s been lovely to sort of read a scene, do it a second time, and on the third time, discover what makes it click.”

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | Taylor Calva, Sebastian Liebe and Cole Dickey in “Middletown” at South Pasadena High School

“With this play, Mr. Hoffa is kind of giving our characters into our hands,” says Calva. “It’s less about him telling us where to go and more of just figuring out what do you feel like the character is and you figure that out.” Adds Omidi, “Mr. Hoffa flat out said in the beginning this is a super challenging piece acting wise. And the beautiful thing is that the reason we’re able to do these things and we’re able to commit and put the effort and put on these awesome performances is because Mr. Hoffa believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. He puts his trust in us which allows us to shine because of the deep bond we have and the way he truly believes in his people. He just puts all of his love and effort and energy in us and we take that and transform it into motivation and love to put on a great performance.”

Senior Alexa Morales tells us “I feel it’s an honor that he gave us this play – that he chose to do it for us specifically. I feel so thankful that he did it for us and is taking the time to do that character work. And how he interacts with our producers – he lets the students take the lead artistically, which is a risk. But he trusts us. And that’s what makes it a home. That’s what makes this program so great.”

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | Taylor Calva, Audrey Ley, Charlotte Dekle, Bella Galan and Lauren Dubria in “Middletown” at South Pasadena High School

Producer Eugenie Borredon agrees. “I love being a producer. He trusts us to take care of it, make decisions and talk to the actors. He trusts us to get stuff done. And I don’t think a lot of adults would have this much trust of five teenagers to choose the entire costumes and props for a play. All the plays we’ve done have been different but what they’ve all had in common is the sense of community because we spend so much time together – and that has made it meaningful.”

“This play has taught me to appreciate the little moments in life,” says Calva. “I’ve been reflecting more on my life and paying attention to those little moments and taking time to be hopeful about my future.”

“Sense and Sensibility” was exactly what we needed last year – something fun, it was outside, high energy – it was the perfect transition from being home and it sparked our love for theatre again, which was wonderful and necessary,” says Omidi. “And Middletown is also just so perfect – now that we’ve had a year to kind of regroup and re-recognize why we do this, why we love it and why Mr. Hoffa and the program is so meaningful to us. And since this play is just grounded in real life questions – everyone in the show is trying to figure out what they’re doing, what their purpose is, what makes them happy and what doesn’t. We all grew a whole lot over COVID and learned a lot about ourselves – and we’re able to take that, and all the insecurities and all the growth, and have this really touching play that is just the actors and they’re acting and connecting their own personalities to these characters, which are so meaningful and so real about life and its struggles.”

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | Finn Gilchrist, Asha Quibilan, and Lauren Dubria in “Middletown” at South Pasadena High School

“Middletown” explores the universe of a small American town – the kind of town where, as one character puts it, “the main street is called Main Street. And the side streets are named after trees. People come, people go. Crying, by the way, in both directions.” Sounds familiar. “Because Middletown is about any town USA – the characters are named with kind of archetypal names – the mechanic, the librarian – where the intention is for us to all think about our small towns and of course makes me think of South Pas,” says Hoffa, who is known for his intuitive sound design for the fall plays. “As I was reading the play, I just happened on my Spotify, to run into some of Maria Taylor’s music, who I had read was a South Pas resident. She is somebody who I listened to 10, 15 years ago and whose music I always enjoyed and I was like, oh my gosh, she lives here. That was incredibly exciting to me and I just thought so much of her music totally gels with the show. And so we will be using her music solely in the show. I hope people who live in South Pas are able to not just think it is intentional that we’re telling the story about this town, but that there’s stuff for us to think about. And I think having a South Pas resident who is an amazing musician, who didn’t grow up here but had a whole career and has settled here later in life, now raising kids here with her husband… having that adds something to the show to me, in addition to the fact that the music is gorgeous. It also feels meaningful that we’re fortunate enough to be in a small town and can make those connections to this play about a small town feels like an extra bonus nugget for us.”

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | South Pasadenan News | Milla Sanchez-Regalado, Audrey Omidi and the cast of “Middletown” at South Pasadena High School.

The playwright said of Middletown that he wanted to write “something that was a statement about what life feels like, to me, on earth.” While the play tackles some difficult subject matter like suicide and depression, Hoffa says, “I find it really joyful that all of these young actors are in some ways doing this piece that’s trying to make sense of this pretty big question of why are we here? That’s been exciting to sort of journey. I think the audience can expect a lot of laughter, a lot of meaningful moments, some beautiful music and some thought provoking conversations.”

Middletown (directed by Nick Hoffa, with technical direction by James Jontz) will be performed five times: Nov. 4, 5, 11, and 12 (Friday, Saturday) all at 7:00PM. There is a Saturday matinee on Nov 12 at 2PM. Little Theater, South Pasadena High School, 1401 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, Calif. General admission is $15. Tickets go on sale the week of October 27, 2022 (check SouthPasDrama.com/middletown for updates), and may be purchased online at sphsasb.org and at the door.

CONTENT ADVISORY: While Middletown has many laughs and moments of hope, it also covers mature subject matter, including suicide, depression, and substance abuse. The show is 13 plus and we suggest parental guidance for all young teens.