See the show May 13 and 14 at the AHS Black Box Theater, with a percentage of proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Association

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero High School drama department is gearing up for the second weekend of its current production, “No Room for a Picture on the Blank Wall.” The show will take place Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, May 14, at 2 and 7 p.m. at Atascadero High School’s Black Box Theater. A portion of proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Atascadero News attended the opening weekend of the production, which starts with Peter, the lead character and a photographer, realizing one day that he can’t see one of his own pictures on the wall of his living room.

“It all starts here with this picture that Peter can’t see,” said AHS Drama Teacher Shawna Volpa.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

The audience sees the whole production through the eyes of Peter as he progresses deeper into the disease of Alzheimer’s. As Peter forgets things, they disappear from the stage, and the actions and set pieces become pantomimed by the rest of the cast. Because, as the show progresses, just like Peter’s Alzheimer’s, Peter and the audience are the only ones who can’t see the complete set, which creates an immersive experience that captures you and pulls you into the production.

“Peter is the main character. He develops Alzheimer’s through the entirety of the show,” said sophomore Isaiah Rice, who plays Peter.

“It was a happy accident,” stated Volpa about finding the play. “I had never heard of the playwright, and I’d never had anybody tell me about this script; I just happened upon it. It was the picture that caught me. I started the perusal of the script, and immediately I was like, ‘oh my god, this is so good,’ and I cried a little bit, and I was like, ‘okay, that’s the one.'”

Volpa then took the script to her tech class, and together they decided that “No Room…” would be their spring production.

“We jumped in. We started researching. None of us really knew much about Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any forms of that,” continued Volpa. “The actors did research to try and make sure that we’re doing it justice. We had the Alzheimer’s Association come in, and they watched us do a practice and gave us some helpful advice because that’s something that’s their speciality. They deal with that all the time. So we were really able to incorporate that as well, which was awesome.”

The AHS drama students decided that they wanted to do something more than just create awareness through the play; they also wanted to fundraise. So not only do a portion of the proceeds from the show go to the Alzheimer’s Association, Central Coast Chapter, but you can also donate to their fundraiser through The Longest Day. Just search AHS Theater at alz.org/tld.

“We’ve had a really good time seeing it all come together, and I’ve been super excited for it because it holds a special place in my heart because someone that was close to me and my family has suffered from Alzheimer’s. And we’ve also partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association, so that’s really exciting,” said Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and student Hannah Shibley.

Every part of Volpa’s shows are student-driven. The students created the set, they run the lighting and sound and even chose “No Room…” to perform.

The cast includes Isaiah Rice as Peter Bunther, Hannah Emmack as Rosemary Bunther, Annika McKnelly as Amy Bunther, Karson Deveraux as Simon Bunther, Cayleb Clarke and Johnny Reyes as the MRC (Memory Removal Company), and Alex DeFraga as Dr. William Fitzgivings.

“It’s a really interesting role to get to portray because I get to connect emotionally, as best as I can, to her situation. Being a caretaker. It’s amazing,” said junior Hannah Emmack, who plays Peter’s wife, Rosemary.

On Saturday, May 14, at 3:45 p.m., between the 2 and 7 p.m. shows, there will be a free dementia Q & A panel. The panel will include Kathryn Cherkas, the programs director for the Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast; Stephanie Foster, the development manager of The Longest Day; Shawna Volpa, the AHS drama teacher and cast members from the production. The entire community is invited to join.

“This play is pretty special. It’s going to be one of my top favorites, I think,” Volpa said. “Just because of how it grew, and it kind of took on a life of its own. And the actors are crushing it.”

Tickets for “No Room for a Picture on the Blank Wall” are $10 and can be purchased at the door or brownpapertickets.com.