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West senior learns from theater performance (video)

By Jessica Rodrigo
Oct. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.

Brandon Foster, 17, left, acts with Melissa Jecker on stage during rehearsal for "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts. The pair play opposite one another on stage but in real life, Jecker is Brandon's theater director at Victoria West High School.

Most days, Brandon Foster and Melissa Jecker have a normal student-teacher relationship. But when they hit the stage Friday at the Leo J. Welder Center, they'll add a little bit of romance through their characters.

The two are cast in Theatre Victoria's production of "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" and play the roles of Peachy Weils and Lala Levy, who develop an eye for one another.

Brandon is a 17-year-old senior student in Jecker's theater class and one of 14 students in the theater club.

Jecker, 32, joined West as a teacher this year and has performed in other community theater productions, including "The Wonderettes" and "Kiss Me, Kate."

When Jecker was cast a role in "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" and heard that Theatre Victoria Director Scott Mohon needed someone to play the role of Peachy Weil, she put in a good word for Brandon.

"He's a natural on stage," she said. "He has quite a stage presence."

Mohon scheduled a one-on-one audition with Brandon to see if he fit the mold and said he immediately saw that the high school senior had a charm about him. Though Brandon plays the role of an arrogant snob, Mohon said he softens the character a little bit. Brandon embraced Peachy's humor in the script since day one of rehearsals, the director said.

"Peachy thinks he's more comical than people might think he is," said Brandon. "I find him enjoyable to play, and he's an easy character to get into."

When Theatre Victoria decided to perform "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," Mohon fell in love with the characters that Alfred Uhry knitted into the script. There is such a great character development, he said.

The story deals with a few social issues, but he said the comedy in the script is such a important part of this play. It could have been a very dramatic script, but the actors add such richness, heart and depth through their performance.

On stage, Brandon and Jecker pull off a great looking couple. He stands much taller than Jecker with his smooth, hairless face and thick, brown hair. He takes on a strong southern accent, and there's a walk about him unlike his gentle everyday gait.

Jecker's blue eyes and bright smile sell her as an eager twenty-something obsessed with "Gone With The Wind." It was a role right up her alley.

"I'm a huge Scarlett O'Hara fan," she said. "I ran with the idea of being over the top and dramatic and play a larger than life person."

Brandon's confidence on stage is apparent, but behind the scenes, he's taking notes from the other actors to improve his performance. This will be his first time to perform outside of school plays.

Brandon got a feel for performing in sixth grade at Patti Welder Middle School when he was pushed on stage by his teacher when one of the other actors was a no-show. Back then, he stayed behind the scenes, usually manning the lights or making sure everything worked as it should.

Now, he works part-time at the Victoria Fine Arts Center working the stage and putting his skills to work whenever there are performances. He's also using the opportunity to perform with Theatre Victoria to learn more from his fellow cast members.

Experienced actors, including Karen Locher and Robert Posey, have knowledge of the stage and what it's like to perform with the community theater he wants to be a part of.

"People in community theater are more dedicated," he said, so he can learn by example.

That's something that Jecker learned from her mentors and that she tries to bring to her classroom. She learned a lot from being a part of the theater while she was in school and says it helped her develop a love for theater while she attended the University of Memphis.

When it comes to performing on stage with the person who is giving him a grade in Theater IV at the end of the semester, Brandon said working with Jecker is easy. Since he hopes to work with a community theater wherever his career as a pilot takes him, he said he'll continue to work on stage and behind the curtain.

"It's the thrill of being in front of the audience," he said. "It's like how people get that adrenaline rush riding a roller coaster."



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