In George Orwell's novel "1984," the characters are at the mercy of Big Brother, a totalitarian government that monitors people's thoughts and rewrites the history books.
In Brainerd High School's performance of "1984," the actors are at the mercy of a more benevolent Big Brother: the students in the sound and lighting booth who will keep the play running smoothly.
The Big Sister of this group is senior Maya Kuehn, a backstage veteran of four BHS plays and two at Franklin Junior High School.
"I've always been intimidated to try out (as an actor) because they say, 'Oh, can we have you backstage?'" Kuehn said in an interview as the cast and crew bustled about during a rehearsal in November. "I like (being) behind the scenes anyway. It's appealing to me to sit back in a huge booth with boards all around me, running the show."
When Kuehn learned that director John Wanniger had selected Orwell's sci-fi classic as the fall play, the sci-fi lover in Kuehn was revived. Growing up, the 17-year-old Brainerd native had devoured the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Isaac Asimov, and in her junior year at BHS she read "1984" for a class assignment.
Even more than the sci-fi aspect, Kuehn appreciates the book's political trappings.
"It's got a good message. The irony is so pervasive in the story -- war is peace, ignorance is strength. I think part of the reason Wanniger chose the play was due to the Patriot Act and the times we live in now, the degree of government involvement in everything. I think it's very appropriate. If you want to get into politics with me, I'm on the liberal side of the spectrum. They invade privacy, they invade rights, and that's what '1984' is about."
Despite her love of the story, Kuehn didn't have any preconceptions about how Orwell's dystopia should look on stage.
If you go
Presented by: Brainerd High School Theatre
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: BHS Theatre
"Usually when I read a book, I'm a visual reader, but it never really occurred to me that ('1984') would be a play," Kuehn said. "Science fiction is a difficult genre to translate to the (stage). This is the first sci-fi play I've ever done, but it's more of a social commentary, really, than science fiction."
Ultimately, she agreed with set designer Matt Cummings' decision to go with a minimalist set and clinical, harsh lighting. Most of the plays Kuehn has worked on at BHS have been minimalist, and Kuehn prefers the simple approach.
"When we go to one-act contests, a lot of teams have huge, elaborate sets and garish costumes," she said. "I think it's better to concentrate on the acting."
On the day of our interview, Kuehn was busy penciling sound cues into her script. On "1984," sound might pose more of a challenge than the lighting, especially since the technical crew can't hear the actors very well from their booth.
"There's the challenge of timing and lip-reading," Kuehn said. "It's an exercise."
At least the tech crew doesn't have to concern themselves with the disembodied voice of Big Brother. Actor Scott Bock opted not to record his lines ahead of time.
"He wants to do it live and be more involved," Kuehn said. "It will make it easier on us because we won't have to cue up Big Brother, cue up the trumpets and cue up the music all at once."
Kuehn hopes to attend Northwestern University and major in chemical engineering with a minor in German. She plans to check out the school's theater program as well, because she finds lighting and sound work to be a fun hobby.
Most of the time.
Until a play actually opens, Kuehn never knows if the technical side will be a breeze or a headache.
"On some shows, you're like, 'Omigod, I'm gonna lose it,'" she said. "Other plays you just sit back there and take it easy and change the lights and cue the curtains and cue the sound. I'm not sure how the dynamic is going to be yet (on '1984')."
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