Ken Ludwig encourages Abington High’s ‘Leading’ thespians via Skype

A few weeks ago, I spoke via Skype with students at Abington High School who are currently performing my play Leading Ladies. The following is an article by Kaitlyn Linsner published in The Montgomery News.

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Instead of spending time after the school day to rehearse lines, block scenes or try on costumes, the cast of Abington Senior High School’s play “Leading Ladies” spoke with someone for an extra kick of inspiration on Oct. 26. This someone answered questions about their characters, plot influences and how to deliver certain lines and every cast member took it to heart because they were talking to internationally acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig — the very man who wrote “Leading Ladies.”

“The ability to talk to a playwright is amazing,” senior Ben Salus said while his friend, Mike Zaharczuk, nodded in agreement. “It was truly inspiring, especially for two kids who want to get into acting.”

For more than an hour, the cast with its show director, Kristen Caiazzo, sat in the high school’s auditorium for a video conference made possible through Skype. Ludwig spoke to the students from Washington, D.C., and a streaming video of the conversation played on a large projector screen onstage.

One by one, or sometimes two at a time, cast members stood at the microphone and asked Ludwig questions ranging from whether or not his Fado inspired his work to who his favorite character in the play is.

“Audrey is my favorite,” Ludwig said and instantly the two students playing Audrey threw their hands up in excitement and one even let out a scream. “She represents the heart beating in all of us that we need to nurture and keep alive because it speaks to our basic humanity. I see her as somebody we should all imitate.”

Needless to say, junior Morgan Boetifuer and sophomore Emma Lukens, the two “Audreys,” were a bit starstruck post video conference.

“To have him say such complimentary things about the person we’re trying to be is amazing. I’m going to really think more about my character,” Lukens said.

Some students wanted to know more about being a playwright and the origin of Ludwig’s love for his craft. Ludwig gladly shared parts of his life story, which gave way to later show ideas. He was born and raised in York, Pa., and loved growing up there. Most of his plays take place in small towns because he liked the connections he made there and understood that community of people, he said.

“For me there’s more comedy to be had in that realm than in other places,” Ludwig said. “These [the characters in “Leading Ladies”] are all people I knew. If you look around, you see all of these types because these are people we live with in our lives.”

Ludwig explained he was “being bitten by the bug” at an early age and that he knew for a very long time that being a playwright was all he wanted to do. “Leading Ladies” premiered in 2004 and since then has been performed all over the world. Students asked if it was meant to play off Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

“There are hints of Shakespeare in all of my plays,” Ludwig said. “’Twelfth Night’ is my favorite Shakespeare and it seemed to fit in the plot. This is meant to be a new take on ‘Some Like It Hot’ with ‘Twelfth Night.’”

“Leading Ladies” starts with two Shakespearean actors, Leo and Jack, played by Salus and Zaharczuk, who have ended up performing in Moose lodges throughout Pennsylvania’s Amish country. They decide to ditch the lousy show gigs when they hear of a dying old lady in York, Pa., who will be giving away her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews.

They arrive ready to play the part, but find out the relatives are not nephews but nieces. Leo later falls in love with the old lady’s niece, Meg, all while hilarity consumes the plot, which is all about having an adventure, Ludwig said.

“It’s about taking a chance because, if you do, you have a chance at life,” he said. “When playing these characters, you have to remember they’re not all that they seem on the surface.”

The cast has been rehearsing for two months now and has been doing quite well, Caiazzo said. She fell in love with the characters and message of the play when she performed in it two years ago and knew then she wanted to bring it to Abington Senior High School.

“I had full faith that our two leads [Salus and Zaharczuk] could do this justice, and I had them in mind from the beginning,” she said. “We are going to have people rolling in the aisles.”

Students found it most helpful that Ludwig could help them better understand their characters and really bring them to life. The two seniors playing Meg, Emilie Mehler and Sabring Silva, both agreed that Ludwig’s insight gave them what they needed to take the character to a deeper level.

“What high school students bring to a play is a freshness, a genuineness that isn’t jaded, an honesty that you start to lose when you get older,” Ludwig said. “The play functions as it was intended because they bring an enormous value to it innately.”

Before signing off, Ludwig left the cast with a few words of advice. Make sure the lines are better than perfect, never paraphrase, talk to each other like you mean it and never try to be funny, he said.

Students thanked him, and as soon as the conference ended, they began to talk a mile a minute about what they had just experienced and just how much better it will make their performance.

“People are going to fall in love with this show,” Salus said.