Newton Kansan

You have to forgive Cassandra Conley, the Newton High School drama director, for the following conversation:

"You're (playing) Joe, aren't you?"

"No, I'm Mike."

It's hard to keep parts straight in this fall's musical "Working," set for stage Nov. 22 through 24 at the school — and not just for Conley. Students are having trouble as well.

That goes with casting 62 actors in a play written for six main parts.

"Our script will say 'Man 2,' but is a group of people," said Jaylin Jackson, first-year stage manager. "Everyone is clumped together."

"There's more to keep track of," said Mikaleigh Wilson, also a stage manager.

Conley said this was not her first pick of a script, but the one she ended up with — and making sure every student who wants to be a part of the show makes it into the production is worth the challenge.

Even if that challenge is to cast multiple actors into a singular role.

"I believe high school theater is at an educational level," Conley told The Kansan. "The musical is an activity, and kids in activities do better in school. Many of these kids will not go on to do theater, they will go on to appreciate the arts. … This helps build confidence and teaches life skills."

She said she believes it will lead to success in the classroom as well — students involved in theater apply what they learn in other classrooms.

And there's research to support her theory.

According to UCLA, students who participate in theater during high school can score up to 100 points higher on the SAT college entry exam.

Another study by The College Entrance Examination Board looked at four years of SAT scores, and they found drama students outscored the national average on the verbal and math sections of the exam.

Those facts are not lost on Wilson — and she has her own story to tell.

"This really helped me my freshman year," Wilson said. "I wasn't very confident talking in front of people. I took drama and intro to theater. Now I can."

That's music to Conley's ears — and helps steady her resolve as the cast moves forward with a challenging show.

"It's going to be OK," Conley said. "But it does feel like a traffic jam."