COPALA, A Student-Run Success
by Savannah Graziano
COPALA, the acronym for Celebration Of Performing And Literary Arts, is a yearly showcase of short plays that are written, directed, and performed by Northside students. This year’s production consisted of five plays: “White Lines on the Freeway,” by Lyla Bariso, Adv. 002, “Clean-Cut, Nondescript,” by George McCoy, Adv. 805, “Gone but Not Forgotten,” by Connor Gartner, Adv. 810, “I Probably Should Have Told You,” by Emily Schultz, Adv. 909, and “Rhynochetos Jubatus,” by Ari Kelo, Adv. 808. Every word, action, light, prop, and musical note came from the mind of a student and resulted in five totally unique works of art that left the audience satisfied and ready for more.
While COPALA has always been a place for creative theatrical expression in the Northside community, it hit a bit of a rut last year, as only two of the initial three plays were performed. This year, Mandy Gomez, Adv. 809, who directed two plays and produced the whole event, made it her mission to change the program. She wanted it to be more inclusive and wanted to give more opportunities to anyone that wanted to participate, no matter their level of experience. “There were a lot of new people who had never performed before, and they were great. People who tried new things were very successful. They let themselves feel proud and have fun, it was incredible.” Mario Cook, Adv. 904, participated in COPALA this year for his first time and felt that it was amazing. “I regret not doing it earlier,” he said. “Knowing that the shows I have performed in were written by people I actually know makes the whole experience feel more personal than previous shows I have been a part of.”
The writers also felt this pressure and excitement. McCoy, a first time writer and actor, describes his main troubles with writing as “constructing realistic and interesting dialogue,” which feeds into a hope for his play to “reflect our reality,” rather than what is typical of professionally produced plays, television, and film. For his play, McCoy drew inspiration from his life, people he knows, and silly concepts that he had thought of in the past. Kelo, a veteran COPALA member and first time writer, talked about getting the inspiration for “Rhynochetos Jubatus” during French class and watching it become a reality. “It was totally spur of the moment. I decided to take a step back this year and, instead of acting, wrote a play. It is an absurdist, comedic commentary on religion and moral values. Seeing it performed was amazing. It was better than I had ever imagined and I was super grateful and proud of the actors and directors and everyone else involved for making my first produced play so perfect. They made choices regarding characters, blocking, costumes, lighting, etc that I had never even thought of.” McCoy compared his experience as a writer with that of an actor and found that each came with their own difficulties, but also successes. “When I was writing, I was allowed to draft for a month, but when I was on stage I had one and only one opportunity to perform in front of an audience,” said McCoy. His nerves, however, went unnoticed by the audience, as he, and the rest of the cast, played their parts with apparent ease.
The final product of the group’s efforts is made even more impressive by the limited time students had to put the show together. With only three weeks to memorize the lines, determine blocking, and to play around with props, lighting and other effects, the members of COPALA had some truly impressive dedication. Cook described his experience as “fun and relaxed, yet very productive,” which is very different from his “intense and stressful” expectations. Schultz called it a “sprint” that resulted in a “fun, casual atmosphere.”
After the show, Gomez praised everyone in COPALA for their efforts. “The cast had never done this before. I was thoroughly impressed with the work that everyone did. There was one time when I walked backstage and Lida Sturm, Adv. 107, was directing. I was nervous because she was directing the largest and longest show, but I saw her with a folder that had the script and notes, and her professionalism blew me out of the water. Everyone else did great and their focus throughout was astounding.” Gomez also made sure to shout-out Stage Crew, who she called the “backbone of Northside.”
COPALA is a great place for any student who wants to work with theater on a smaller scale than the fall play or spring musical. The small, tightly-knit casts and unique, student-run nature of the club allows everyone of varying experience levels to participate. Kelo described the experience of COPALA best, saying, “I've done COPALA every year and it has been really influential for me as a young actor. Not only have I learned invaluable backstage skills, but collaborating with other students to realize everyone's creativity in the form of an actual production has been really rewarding.” Gomez, who has participated since her freshman year, added, “It has been a really great experience to practice what I’m going to do in college and to work with others in stage performance.”
What is in store for next year? Gomez is very excited and confident in the people who are going to take over COPALA. “They are creative, talented, kind, really awesome, and stuff. I’m excited to come back and see what they’ve done next year.” She encourages everyone to submit a script or try out next year.