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NHS students to present dinner theater production

Even though she’s out of her comfort zone, Allison Bollhoefer is having a blast. As Eleanor VanHuesen Ballhoefer, a junior at Newton High School, plays the lead role in the school’s fall production of “Dinner at Eight, Dead by Nine.” The production represents a host of new challenges for drama students at the high school.

“This really pushed me out of my comfort zone, it’s a new level of theatre,” Ballhoefer said.

The production, a “clever comedy mystery” will be presented as a dinner theater production. Students will serve guests a pasta dinner during the production, even as they’re reciting their lines. Director Meldina Worthington said she’s excited to stage this production, it’s the first time students have attempted to do a dinner theater.

“It’s exactly like ‘Clue,’ but this time we know it’s in the dining room,” Worthington said.

It’s also the third play that students have staged this year, following their doubleheader Halloween production. Despite the heavy workload, Ballhoefer said she and the rest of the cast are excited about the production because it represents a totally new approach to the theater for students. Instead of standing on the stage, students are playing “in the round” and will be surrounded by the audience during the play. Ballhoefer said working on “Dinner at Eight, Dead by Nine” has been challenging at times, but it’s been her favorite production so far.

“On stage, you see the lights but you don’t see the people, here you’re right up next to them, it’s a shocking experience,” Ballhoefer said.

Not only will students be getting out of their comfort zone while they interact with the audience, they’ll also be taking their show on the road. The schedule includes performances at two local assisted living facilities, Park Centre and Newton Village. Students will stage their first show at Park Centre on Nov 9, and then head across the street to Newton Village for a show on Nov 13, after appearing at the high school on Nov. 11 and 12.

Worthington said this is the first time they’ve performed outside of an auditorium, and part of the challenge is learning to work around the obstacles. Crew members have been working on creating a mobile light and sound system they can bring with them to performances, and cast members will have to work around obstacles they encounter in these new spaces. Thursday night as students rehearsed at Park Centre the cast worked on “blocking” to figure out where each casts member’s ideal position would be during the production. Hitting the road requires plenty of extra effort, but Worthington said it’s been worth the effort, and she’s hoping there will be more opportunities to showcase the talent of her students in the future.

“If it’s successful, coming out in the community, we’re very open to making this an annual tradition,” Worthington said.

At Park Centre, where students will perform next week, excitement is already building. Sarita Smith, the wellness coordinator at Park Centre, said she was excited when Worthington reached out to her about the possibility of staging the production at the assisted living facility. This is the first time they’ve done this, but Smith is hoping it’s the start of a tradition.

“We’ve never had anything like this before, so we’re really excited,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of buzz.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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