By ALEX OWENS | La Mesa Courier
When it came time to pick out a senior project, the choice was easy for Will Harris. It was everything else that was difficult.
Harris, a senior at Helix High, has spent four years in the school’s drama department so directing a play seemed like a natural choice.
“It felt right to direct,” Harris said while at a San Francisco speech tournament. “A good ending to my time at the Helix Drama Department.”
But what to do? What to do?
Considering his musical theater background, it’s natural that Harris thought about doing a musical, but that didn’t work out. He also considered doing “The Odd Couple,” since he had gone to a state speech tournament last year performing a scene from the Neil Simon comedy.
“That didn’t work because the department had done that recently,” Harris said. “But I was looking at the plays at Barnes & Noble, and the choice seemed so obvious.”
That obvious choice was George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the 1913 comedy that introduced the world to Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.
Turns out, Harris had played Higgins in a Peter Pan Junior Theatre production back in 2017, and he was familiar with the basic premise, though the original play lacks famous songs like “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
“The musical has more romance than the play,” Harris said. “George Bernard Shaw never intended for Higgins and Doolittle to end up together. His Higgins has less charm and is more like an overgrown infant.”
Considering Harris has never directed a play, much less one hailed as one of the landmarks of 20th-century theater, his friends and teachers had all sorts of advice.
“My friend Shane Robles, who directed a play for his senior project last year, told me, ‘Don’t do it!’ but then he said that if you are going to do it, it’s not going to be easy.”
Drama teacher Paul Reams says he did stress to Harris that the time commitment needed to direct a play went far beyond the typical senior project.
“A typical project takes about 20 hours of work while a play needs 250 to get it right,” Reams said. “That’s 10-12 times beyond other students.”
Reams is impressed with how Harris is handling the pressure.
“He’s got an artistic sensibility and makes quality choices,” Reams said.
Harris admits he got a kick when he told Peter Pan Junior Theatre director Dr. Mark Arapostathis he was returning to Higgins for his senior project.
“I didn’t ask for advice that much. I just said, ‘Guess what I’ve decided to tackle,’” Harris laughed.
Dr. Arapostathis is proud his student got so much out of “My Fair Lady” that he wanted to dig deeper with “Pygmalion.”
“I’m proud of him because that means he researched it,” Arapostathis said. “So many kids doing musicals don’t take the time to research the origins.”
Harris is also helping Arapostathis with PPJT’s newest play “Peter Pan.”
Although Harris hasn’t asked for advice on doing “Pygmalion,” Dr. A said throughout Harris’ time in PPJT, he would often ask questions about how a scene was staged.
“He was listening and paying attention, so I do hear when he speaks to the kids in our group it’s obvious he’s learned quite a lot on the job,” he said.
Harris jokes that he’s learned one valuable lesson as a result of doing “Pygmalion”: He doesn’t want to be a director.
“Honestly, I think I like acting more,” Harris laughed. “But it’s been an amazing experience working with everyone to make the show mine.”
“Pygmalion” will debut Jan. 30 at the Helix Mainstage Theater and run in repertory with “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at highlandplayers.ticketleap.com/.
— Alex Owens is a freelance writer based in La Mesa.