Remembering an era gone by

This is not a black and white photo, the actress, Sasha Putnam, props and set are all painted gray to mimic a black and white film. The High School Drama Club performed a never-before-seen production honoring the advances and comedy of the silend film era.

Most silent movies are over 100 years old now. A medium that was enjoyed by my great-grandparents and my grandparents. We had a rare treat this past week as Wheatland High School’s Thespian Troupe 605 did an original production exhibiting the artistic expression and comedy action of the first form of film.
In addition to the relief of the audience’s mask mandate being removed, the play itself was brilliant. Genius. And makes me want to shout BRAVO again and again.
I felt honored to be a part of the first audience to witness this tribute to silent films that was created from the minds of the directors Kalyn Krotz, Ton Winter and the drama kids. Everything we saw that night was produced specially for the performance. From the elaborate sets that were created to look like silent film sets with clever names paying homage to film stars of the 20th century such as Buster Feeds and Charlie’s Stable. Of course, referring to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
The actors were all outfitted in greys and blacks and wore gray makeup that gave the appearance of watching a silent film on the big screen. During the scene changes a screen was set up with actual clips from silent movies. It was magic and brought back many memories for me as I could almost hear my grandfather’s laugh as Chaplin was falling off buildings and running away from Keystone Cops.
Fond memories of late rainy afternoons in front of a summer baseball game that had been replaced due to inclement weather and replaced by silent film during a rain delay.
Winter said that the special clips along with interesting facts about the silent film era were a labor of love, put together with many hours of sifting through silent film and making sure it was deemed public domain.
All the silent film sketches were also created by Krotz, Winter and students. My favorite had to be the father (portrayed by Robert Hendon) who brought his son into a hat store to get a suitable hat for a young gentleman.  As the hat salesperson played by Rory Winter was trying to sell hats on one table, the man’s son played by Kit Winter was trying on other hats that appeared on the other table.
Ridiculous hats. And each time he tried on a hat, his persona changed. He became a shoot-em-up cowboy when he put on the cowboy hat to a David Livingston explorer when he tried on a pith helmet. All, of course to the chagrin of his father.
Winter simply stole the scene with his deadpan expressions and mischievous character acting. Not only was he amazing, but all the kids played into their roles so perfectly which was amazing since none of them had been exposed to that kind of media before this project and both directors I know aren’t old enough to be sentimental about the silent movie industry.
Just like the silent films themselves, these performances were fleeting, original and most likely will never be seen again onstage which is a tragedy, because something this good which not only entertained and educated should be done again and again and again.
It wasn’t just another play. It wasn’t just another tribute. It was a once in a lifetime shooting star performance that I will remember as being one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Such talent and insight here in Wheatland. Just another reason why I love this town.
Mark DeLap is an award-winning writer and photographer for the Platte County Record-Times and the Guernsey Gazette. He can be emailed at [email protected]