For English teacher, Joy Huber, that means expanding her days of guiding students in deconstructing literature into the theater. The journey isn’t entirely a strange one for her, because utilizing theatrical concepts is something she does to help students connect with the written word.
“I have no experience in theater — however, this is my fourteenth year teaching English, and I love having my students participate in skits and perform adaptations of the literature we read,” Huber said. “This is a teaching method I often utilize in the classroom.”
For the past few weeks, Huber — along with fellow English teacher, Tina Hughes — has been helping theater director Anita Philibin jumpstart to program with a production of John Steinbeck’s iconic “Of Mice and Men.”
“Mrs. Philibin selected Of Mice and Men when she asked me to help her with the play. This is a great selection because it is a novella that every freshman at Cardinal Mooney reads. So, it is a story the student body is already familiar with and understands. The characters are intriguing, and the themes stay with the reader/audience long after the book is finished/the curtain is closed,” Huber said. “The thematic concept of the American dream, the desperate feelings of isolation, and the desire to cling to hope in darkness are all universal ideas that were relevant during the setting of the Great Depression and today.”
Making something small with big ideas is the perfect route to take in the formative stages of Cardinal Mooney’s theater rebirth.
“This story is one that sticks with the audience for a long time. When I tell my family and friends I am helping direct Of Mice and Men, everyone says the same thing: ‘Poor Lennie’,” Huber said. “The story is so well known and memorable, and the fate of the characters leaves such a lasting impression.”
With the theatrical direction firmly in Philibin’s grasp, Huber’s input has been to help the actors connect with their characters and their motivation through the devices Steinbeck used to tell his story.
“I feel like my attention to the symbolic references and literary elements like foreshadowing help me to try to get the kids in character,” Huber said. “For example, reminding Curley’s Wife how important it is that she doesn’t have a name and wears red to try to seek attention and demand someone to listen to her during a time when women did not have a voice … or reminding the cast how important it is to make the audience aware of the foreshadowing Steinbeck carefully layers into the work. I love analyzing literature, and I think these skills are useful when helping direct a play.”
On the set, it’s easy to see that the flow of ideas is energizing the production’s creativity.
“I definitely look up to Mrs. Philibin, and I am learning so much from her,” Huber said. “I will help her make her vision come true. She was a theater major, and we are blessed to have her as Mooney’s director.”
When people see the play, they will definitely get a more organic feel to the performances. Hughes thinks it is what will separate Mooney’s production from others.
“We are encouraging students who are completely new to theater. A lot of our cast members for Of Mice and Men have little experience in theater, and I think it is so brave that they are trying something new. In this cast, we have student athletes, speech and debate team members, and students with a variety of talents and interests,” she said. “I think this shows that there does not have to be a certain stereotype that defines a student who participates in theater. I am so proud of these kids and thankful for the opportunity to work with this cast.”