Students bringing ‘1984’ to the stage

BLUE EARTH – Director Kurt Steinke and the drama crew at Blue Earth Area High School wanted to tackle something serious for the fall play, so they will present “1984” by George Orwell.

The production takes to the stage 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Performing Arts Center at the high school.

“I was real excited about the potential of having a message like this in a play,” Steinke said. “I’d say it’s one of the most powerful things when you’re in an audience and you see an emotional scene that takes you by surprise. Not something we get to experience most of the time.”

Orwell wrote the book in 1948 and transposed the last two numbers to come up with the year in which he set his futuristic novel about “Big Brother” spying on the populace.

“George Orwell was a huge supporter, at first, of [Joseph] Stalin,” Steinke explained. “Then he heard about the horrible things that were going on [in the Soviet Union]. He wanted to put that in a way people would understand.

“The government believes the way to control the population is to control the way people think. The only way to control them is to spy on them,” Steinke said. “What happens to a country when we lose our freedom of choice to do what we want and to think what we want?”

Steinke believes that even though “1984” was published more than 60 years ago, it has a relevant message for the 21st century.

“I think it’s very interesting that technology has changed to the point where Big Brother is becoming more meaningful,” he said. “Just look at what’s happening in the government the last six months.”

Wiretapping and monitoring of phone calls is now possible, he pointed out.

“Think about all the people putting their own information on Twitter and Facebook,” Steinke said. Such information can lose a person a job or embarrass them in countless other ways.

As for the production, adapting a book into a play has its challenges. In the book, there is a lot of setup, creating the world of “1984” and letting readers into the mind of the main character.

“In the play, you can’t really do that,” Steinke said. “It jumps to the action in the play.”

He said his young actors had been doing a lot of comedy and wanted to stretch their wings.

“Some seniors came up to me and said it’d be great to do a drama where we could yell at each other a little bit,” he recalled.

Of the 16 cast members, some read the book before auditioning.

“They took it head-on, that’s for sure,” Steinke said.

“This is really in the teenage mindset. You just have to look at [the book] ‘The Hunger Games,'” he said. “We’re able to think big thoughts and go beyond what people’s perception of high-schoolers can be.”