Franklin High School students brandished homemade spears and danced in front of an elaborate student-made mural depicting a tale of forbidden love during rehearsal for their spring performance of "Aida" March 14.
Director Danny Hughes said students have taken on the majority of the work for the show from costume design, to prop manufacturing to publicity.
"Pretty much every job that would be done in a professional theater is being done by a student, outside of directing it," Hughes said. "This is really the furthest we've ever been at this point in the show. There is still a lot that needs to be done."
Hughes describes "Aida" as "West Side Story" and "Romeo and Juliet" in ancient Egypt. The plot details an Egyptian prince, Radames, who takes Nubian slaves in one of his conquests. Over the course of the show, he falls in love with Aida, one of the captured slaves.
"We are doing the original Broadway staging, which isn't required when you get the script, but we decided to do it, where all the Nubian characters are African-American and all the Egyptians are white," Hughes said. "It mirrors the American slavery idea and mimics the oppression there. It's a way to target that message as well.
The performance of "Aida" is being submitted to the Cappies of Baltimore, which Hughes describes as the High School version of the Tony Awards. For their first entry to the Cappies, Franklin performed "Little Shop of Horrors" last year. They came away from the award ceremony with Cappies for featured performer and props. Hughes said he hopes last year would act as a trial run for this year's production.
"We were originally going to do 'Christmas Carol' as our Cappie show, but we decided to switch to this one," Hughes said. "'The Christmas Carol' wasn't really where we wanted it to be. It was kind of a learning show with the kids running everything. They just weren't there yet. The tech was a little bit sloppy. It was all good, just very much a learning process."
Hughes said the students have learned their lessons from "The Christmas Carol" and are completely prepared for the show.
Danielle Walker, costume designer for the show, said her biggest challenge is costuming the volume of actors in the show.
"Every time you do something that you like, you then have to redo it about 12 more times," Walker said. "That's the hardest thing, the time commitment. But I love it, and I think they turned out great. No matter what struggles I have, I think they're worth it."
Joel Vazquez, who won a Cappie last year for his role as Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors," is portraying the lead Radames, captain of the Egyptian army.
"It's a long show, but it's very energizing. We have a cast who is devoted to the show," Vazquez said. "It's high-paced. There's so many dance numbers and musical numbers; it really takes a lot of stamina to keep up."
This is Vazquez' last performance with Franklin High School. Next year he will be studying acting at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I have a soft spot, since this will be the last one. I feel like it's going out with a bang," Vazquez said. "Doing this is bittersweet, but it's nice to do this with people I love and who support me."
Dorian Elie, playing Mereb in Aida, has served as a Cappies critic for the past two years. He said they go to each show in the county and rate them based on their accomplishments.
"It's us trying to bring our community of theater all together in one place to talk about what we love about theater," Elie said. "I love the fact that it's a family. Really anyone you know that has theater in them just become family to you. It's just instinct."