Trevor Rinzler, 13, as Billy debates with himself whether he should join the army during the Civil War as his recruiter, Andrés de Loera-Brust, busies himself with paperwork at his desk. Andrés and fellow Harper Junior High School classmate Virginia Salomon wrote the 90-minute play, "A Nation Divided," that will be presented Friday and Saturday at the school. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo


Harper students stage Civil War play written by classmates

By From page A1 | March 06, 2013

That’s the ticket

What: “A Nation Divided,” a play set in the Civil War, written and performed by students

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Harper Junior High School, 4000 E. Covell Blvd.

Tickets: $7 general, $5 with ASB card

Students at Harper Junior High will present a play set in the Civil War on Friday and Saturday evenings in the school’s multipurpose room — and the script for the roughly 90-minute show is an original, written by two Harper students.

Characters in the play include slaves, a military recruiter, soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies, a doctor in a military field hospital, political figures like Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, and assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Ninth-grader Virginia Salomon wrote the first draft of the play, titled “A Nation Divided,” last year. She also plays a slave, a citizen and first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in the show.

Writing scenes about slavery and the Civil War era prompted Virginia to do a bit of research.

“I learned about the conditions that slaves lived in, how it was so brutal,” she said. She also realized that slavery was an accepted practice in several parts of the world in the 1800s, something that “some people thought of as a necessity. It was hard for me to put myself in their perspective, because now it feels like such a cruel and horrible thing.

“I also learned about slave culture, and how some of the music and dance styles that we have today are based on slave culture. I hadn’t realized that (before),” Virginia said.

Working on the play also helped Virginia realize that life for a girl her age during Civil War times would have been pretty different from the life of a Harper student today.

“I think that for a lot of them, school was over, and they were working around the house, or getting an apprenticeship,” she explained. “Some people joined the army at that age. They had a lot more of a ‘grown-up’ role” than someone in their mid-teens has today.

Ninth-grader Andrés de Loera-Brust, who added considerable material to the script when a second draft was created, agreed that “a 15-year-old’s life during the Civil War would have been very different. The youngest soldier documented (as participating in a Civil War army) was 13.”

Civil War soldiers who suffered a bullet wound to an arm or leg often had that limb amputated; there were no modern antibiotics to control an infection. The play includes a scene in which a wounded soldier is told his leg will need to be amputated.

In the show, Andrés plays three roles, including Ezekiel, a slave.

“For most of his life, he’s had very little chance to escape or make a new life,” Andrés said. “When he does escape and becomes free, he is not sure what to do, because until that point in his life, he’s never had a choice.”

Playing Abraham Lincoln is Jamie Moddelmog, a seventh-grader. The role involves delivering Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address  (“Four score and seven years ago …”) which is only 246 words long but is widely considered one of the greatest speeches ever delivered by an American president. “I try to talk a little lower (than my regular voice) when I do it,” Jamie said. “He was a big man.”

Jamie added that the script’s references to battlefield amputations made him think. In his life thus far, he hasn’t met many people who’ve lost a leg or an arm.

Renay Marquez, a paraeducator at Harper who helped coordinate development of the play, said, “The show was written by students who were interested in applying their drama skills to something they wanted other students to take interest in as a part of their eighth-grade year (2012).

“The students in this show (seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders) have been working with me since the last week of January 2013 bringing all the characters to life. The script was not a classroom assignment; it was started in Drama Club, an extracurricular activity at Harper supervised by the Drama Advisory Board” made up of staff members at Harper who have an interest in theater.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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