Horror thrills, jazz chills at ‘Experiment’-al High School show

Mar 1, 2023

Weird science and cool jazz collided at the Wareham High School auditorium on Wednesday, March 1.

The hep cats of the High School Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Workshop performed a medley of big band tunes, followed by a psychologically probing performance from the Viking Theater Company. 

“Wednesday night, what a good night for a concert,” said High School Music Director Jason Roth.

Alongside classics by Duke Ellington and Van Morrison, one piece on the setlist stood out — “Cosmo Canyon,” written for the video game “Final Fantasy VII.”

Senior James Houghton, a big “Final Fantasy” fan, wrote his own arrangement of “Cosmo Canyon” and conducted the Jazz Ensemble’s performance of it. 

“It has a very spiritual quality,” he said. “It’s a very moody and atmospheric piece.”

“Cosmo Canyon” stuck out to Houghton due to its powerful drumbeat and “sweeping and grand” flutes. 

Every part of it, he said, is “its own little song.” 

Arranging “Cosmo Canyon” for a jazz ensemble was challenging. He transposed the piece completely by ear, for a much larger orchestra than it was originally intended for. He had to write a whole new harmony part for the eighth and ninth graders to play.

“It takes a lot of trial and error,” he said, “but ultimately I’m very proud of how far the group has come. I think they sounded absolutely terrific tonight. It was a fun experience getting to put my own little twist on the song.”

“Nothing could make a band director prouder,” Roth said, than seeing Houghton conduct.

Houghton is also in the Jazz Workshop, which he described as follows: “The section leaders, the best of the best, get together and play some tunes. They really test our limits.”

“They’ve been playing a lot [today],” Roth said of the Jazz Workshop. “This might be their fifth hour.”

“Sixth,” said drummer Malachi Samuels. 

Houghton has played the saxophone for four years. He also plays clarinet, and is learning how to play the guitar. He was drawn to jazz after hearing it in movies and TV shows.

“It’s a very provocative, flee-flowing form,” he said. “it elicits a lot of emotions. It’s very expressive, it’s creative, and I’m really drawn to that.”

After the concert, the Theater Company performed “An Experiment,” a harrowing one-act play by Brent Holland. Students were responsible for the direction, set design, costumes, makeup, lighting and sound. 

The play opens on five sedated “patients” woken up by Dr. Soles (Aidan Dillen). Despite his name, Dr. Soles doesn’t manufacture foot cream, but kidnaps people and forces them to participate in sadistic experiments. 

“I’ve done a lot of thinking about the headspace that leads someone to behaving like that,” said Dillen, a junior. “The disregard for ethics and morals.” 

Pumped with amnesia-inducing drugs, Dr. Soles’s five victims are given name tags with a single personality trait — Devious (Sage Kidder), Courageous (Koral Davis), Impulsive (Peyton Smith), Compassionate (Addison “Basil” Freeman) and Orderly (Daniella “Rye” Amezian). Will their new names dictate how they navigate their terrifying ordeal, or will they regain memories of their former selves? Is the human mind truly a blank slate? 

“We thought it would be pretty impactful,” student director Laura Clements said of the show. “Leave a mark.” 

Clements, a senior, wanted them to put her actors into a “foreign mindset” as they brought a surreal scenario to life.

“I think they were able to take this foreign setting and bring it to life on stage,” she said, “and I’m really proud of them.”

The Viking Theater Company won three acting awards and an award for lighting and sound when they performed “An Experiment” at the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival in Bourne on Saturday, March 4.

They have moved on to the state semifinals, competing against other schools in a tournament bracket system (think March Madness for theater kids).