Not just kids’ stuff

Sage Ridge School teens perform in a complex adult drama

A scene from Sage Ridge School’s production of <i>A Doll’s House</i>.

A scene from Sage Ridge School’s production of A Doll’s House.

Teenagers are naturally teeming with emotions and passions, or in a word, drama. Brian Frishman, the director of the Summit Theatre Program at Sage Ridge School, harnesses this natural pathos in the production of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A Doll’s House, to be performed this weekend.

Though some may say that the Ibsen play, with its complex themes and mature treatments of social issues, could be too tough for a teen production, Frishman says the teens rose to the challenge.

“The result has been amazing,” he says. “Most [people] have not seen teenagers acting at such a high level.”

But not all youths get to work with a director like Frishman, whose resume includes working as an actor or director with such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, James Earl Jones, Sally Field and Tommie Lee Jones. Frishman’s statuesque 6-foot, 6-inch frame landed him roles in several episodes of “The Fall Guy” and “Matlock.” He’s owned and served as artistic director of the Actors Group Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Calif., and he’s worked at the Mark Taper Forum and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. He has taught acting, directing and musical theater at UCLA, Ventura College and Oxnard College.

Frishman came to Reno two years ago to design and implement the first theater arts program for Sage Ridge School and will be leaving at the end of this school year to open the Actors Conservatory of Northern Nevada this fall. The Conservatory, he says, will provide drama training and performance opportunities for actors ages 11 to 19. The program is based on the graduate acting program at UCLA, where Frishman received a master’s of fine arts in theater directing.

“The support for the arts in Reno is unbelievable,” Frishman says. “I would like to see the community use the conservatory program as a model to develop the talents of these kids.”

Frishman does not espouse a certain acting method but has tried to introduce the students to a toolbox of techniques that allows them to discover what works best for them during their exercises. He says he demands as much dedication, hard work and discipline from the students as he would require from professional actors.

The nine students in the cast of A Doll’s House, all from seventh to 10th grades, have invested 20 to 30 hours a month—in addition to rehearsal time—working on their craft. Frishman describes A Doll’s House as an important classic.

“It was the first realistic play to deal with the social issue of a woman’s independence within a social structure,” he says.

Ibsen’s challenging proto-feminist play about a woman’s plight to pay back a fraudulently obtained loan caused fistfights and near-riots when it was first performed in 1879. The plot revolves around Nora (Kristan Brown), who finds herself in a suffocating predicament when she fakes her father’s signature to borrow money so that she can take her sick husband, Torvald (Tyler McClain) on a medicinal trip to Italy. Guest artist Cameron Crain of the Nevada Shakespeare Festival plays Krogstad, the unethical scoundrel who loans Nora money, and then attempts to blackmail the distraught woman.

Frishman says he’s impressed with his students’ progress.

“I have seen phenomenal growth in the students as actors and human beings," Frishman says. "The students have done exceptional work in comedic as well as dramatic works."