Brassy jazz music reverberates off the walls as she walks to take her place on stage. Nerves fill her as her stout heels click and clack on the black wooden floor, the uncertainty of what tonight’s performance could bring looming over her head, but she can’t focus on that now. She shakes her head, arrives center stage, and opens the show as the lights come up. Freshman Harley Frias steps into the role of Catherine for this year’s freshman class performance of These Shining Lives.
“I am beyond excited to show our theater program what the freshman advanced class can do, and how we are going to chance the theater program for the better,” Frias said. “It’s been absolutely amazing [being in the show] and I can’t imagine doing it with any other kids.”
In order to get the part, Frias had to put forth her best audition for the senior directing, Lynley Eilers, but Frias didn’t go for the lead. Instead, she originally auditioned for the smaller role of Frances.
“Going into theater, I never thought I’d be able to compete against the other girls in my class,” Frias said. “It was a huge shock to me when I was announced the lead.”
Frias was surprised to learn when the cast list was posted that she would be portraying Catherine Wolfe Donohue, a real woman who lived during the roaring twenties. Though the play, set in Ottawa Illinois during the twenties and thirties, is largely fiction, it is based off of the real life tragedies of women such as Donohue who suffered radium poisoning as a result of working at the watch painting company, Radium Dial. The play largely centers around Catherine and three of her fellow workers and friends as they fall ill and take the company before the court.
“[The women in the show] are incredibly strong,” Frias said. “It is amazing to see that despite all this, they still stick together. It reminds me of our theater program.”
The role can be emotionally draining as it requires Frias to tell the story of a young woman who was excited for her future and now finds herself terminally ill and essentially murdered by a dishonest company. There are several scenes in the show in which the character of Catherine contemplates dying, and what that means for those left behind.
“Once I truly started getting into character I found myself at the end of rehearsal extremely tired and sad,” Frias said. “I was put into the mindset of the character I was playing. It’s hard being a generally happy person and going into such a dramatic role like the one I have.”
Frias is a part of the freshman advanced productions class, a theater grouping of largely freshman and some sophomores as they prepare to become a part of the plays performed at the school. She was required to audition at the end of last year in order to make it into the class, and was able to make it despite the fact she had never seriously acted before. Frias has recently made it into the regular advanced productions class, which is only open to sophomores and up.
“I was unbelievably joyed [to find out I made it],” Frias said. “There was a weight lifted off of me because I was so stressed about auditions. It was a huge payback and relief to find out I had made it.”
Frias hasn’t only shone in theater, however. She has also shown leadership in her women’s choir class, where she is a section leader, and has recently been accepted into Lionheart, and exclusive section of choir for talented students.
“It was weird for teachers to give me leadership roles, since I am a very shy kid,” Frias said. “But being in the leadership roles I learned social skills and how to work with others so I do enjoy it.”
These Shining Lives will be performed on Wednesday at six at night in the little theater. Frias and her cast will be the first of five shows to perform. Admission is five dollars.
“I am so grateful I get to do [this performance] with my fellow castmates and crew,” Frias said. “All these friendships I’ve made have turned into family and I am so excited for the years to come.”