By Dedra Cordle
Westland High School teachers John Weddendorf and Chris White were overjoyed when they realized the drama club’s fall play would coincide near Halloween.
“We thought it would be the perfect time to produce a horror show,” said White. “We rarely get to do horror productions and we knew we had to take this opportunity that was presented to us.”
With not many options available, the co-directors turned to a cult classic from the 1960s.
“We chose ‘Night of the Living Dead’ because it’s sort of scary, sort of funny, kind of campy and wholly entertaining,” said White.
Feeling positive that their students would love the idea as much as they did, they gathered them around at the start of the school year to tell them the good news. Their reaction, however, was a little horrifying.
“There were a lot of blank stares,” said Weddendorf.
Since they had a slight inkling that some of the teens may not have heard of George A. Romero’s film, they played a few clips to give them a feel of what was in store.
Still, the level of excitement wasn’t what they had thought it could, or should, be.
“I’ll admit to being very skeptical,” said senior Phoebe Henricks. “It looked a bit cheesy but from a technical aspect I thought it would be a good challenge.”
Since joining the drama club her freshman year, Henricks has spent most of her time off the stage managing the sounds and lights. She said after some further contemplation of “Night of the Living Dead,” she warmed up to the idea.
“What I love about it is that it’s in black and white,” she said. “The script also calls for that so we’ve been working really hard to make it look as spooky as possible with the lighting effects. I’m really proud of what we all have managed to come up with so far.”
Like Henricks, the rest of the students slowly came around to the idea, especially the ones who wanted to play zombies. Weddendorf said the excitement about playing ravenous and slow-moving corpses didn’t come as a surprise.
“I often see them in that zombie-like state,” he said dryly.
Shortly after the announcement was made, they had auditions to find their leading humans, Barbara and Ben.
In the film, Barbara is an emotionally traumatized young woman who is prone to screaming and crying, while Ben is more measured but equally frazzled by the situation. Senior Wesley Estep, who will be portraying Ben, said he chose not to watch the film beforehand for character clues, while Layne Egelhoff, who portrays Barbara, said she did.
“I wanted to get a real feel for it,” she said. “It’s definitely a film you have to learn to appreciate.”
She said she was interested in Barbara because of her fragile emotional state, but initially wary of how to portray her.
“I found the screaming aspect to be easy,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s hard to go mute and rock back and forth all the time. That gets kind of boring.”
For more than two months, the cast and crew have been hard at work, perfecting the set, lighting, dialogue and makeup. Some have even went beyond their duties and spent hours looking at zombie makeup and movement tutorials online.
“We’ve really gotten into this,” said Dakari McLaughlin, a sophomore who is playing a zombie.
“We’re excited for people to see it,” added Audriauna Cunningham, another sophomore zombie.
Estep said he looks forward to seeing the reaction from the audience.
“I think they’ll be surprised by how good this is,” he said. “There are a lot of physical aspects to this play, there’s some horror, some humor, a lot of humanity and it’s really engaging.”
Egelhoff echoed his statement and said she hopes the community will come out to see their version of “Night of the Living Dead.”
“I know a lot of people, especially some of our peers, think the drama club is stupid,” she said. “But we put so much energy and heart into what we are doing and I would just love if people could come out and see what we’ve been working so hard on.”
The Westland High School Drama Club will present George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” on Nov. 2 and 3. The show time for Nov. 2 is at 7:30 p.m., while the show times for Nov. 3 are at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The Nov. 3 matinee will have activities such as zombie face painting and crafts. Tickets for the shows are $5 for adults and $4 for students. The performances will take place in the auditorium at the school, located at 146 Galloway Road, Galloway.