During a late afternoon in the vacated hallways of Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Tom Gunning takes out his keys and unlocks the doors to the school’s auditorium that is completely dark.
Once he and his wife, Teresa Wallace-Gunning, enter the spacious and quiet room, the lights shine on throughout the empty auditorium.
And that is before the couple even flicked on the light switch.
This personable duo lightens up any room that they enter–-especially at a theater.
Bridgewater residents Tom Gunning and Teresa Wallace-Gunning have devoted their time and energy and have shared their passion for the theater in their position as the Directors of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Theater Arts program.
Other than Wallace-Gunning's role as a substitute teacher for the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District and that their two children were educated through this school system, they have no other ties to the high school.
Gunning’s full-time position is at Novartis Corporation, the pharmaceutical company that is headquartered in East Hanover. He works in the company’s finance department.
But when he and his wife walk on center stage, the spotlights focus on them while they work their magic with students who are eager to absorb the couple’s love of acting.
“There is no place we would rather be,” Tom Gunning declared.
On this afternoon, they set up the props on the empty stage while their actors stroll into this arena where they will all team up to perform the first play of the 2022-2023 school year at the high school.
Then the married couple put on their coaching costumes and engage with their students on stage to practice
Rehearsals have begun for the Thespian Honor Society Troupe No. 5154, which, with in conjunction with the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Department of Arts, will present “Antigone Now.”
The play, which was written by award-winning playwright Melissa Cooper, “Antigone Now” is a modern theatrical adaptation of Sophocles’ infamous Greek Tragedy.
Gunning and Wallace-Gunning and their 28-member Thespian Honor Society will make up the ensemble that will present the play from October 7 through 9 in the high school auditorium.
The shows on Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, will each open the curtain at 7 p.m. The final performance on Sunday, October 9, will be a matinee show that will start at 2 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now for general admission seating and can be purchased by going online at:
Tickets are $5 for students/senior citizens and $10 for adults if purchased in advance of the show. Ticket prices at the door during the night/day of the performance are $8 for students/senior citizens and $13 for adults.
Senior citizens who reside in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District will be admitted free if they show proof of their residency.
According to the website, Acting Now, the play portrays a woman whose name is Antigone as a person who has had enough.
Her brother is dead and her uncle, Creon, has banned his burial. Her fiance and her sister are of no help, so she decides to take matters into her own hands, risking death in the process.
Written by Sophocles in 442 B.C., and presented in this adaption by the high school's Thespian Honor Society, “Antigone” is a tale of a young heroine who goes against society to honor the death of her brother. This new version of the play depicts the empowerment of women and the crucial issues modern societies must grapple with today while exploring relationships in the context of war, nationalism and dysfunctional families, according to Acting Now.
Our passionate adult directors each received a master’s degree in acting and theater at colleges that are also renowned for basketball. Gunning earned his degree at the University of North Carolina and Wallace-Gunning received her degree from Indiana University.
“My team has suffered a bit,” she sadly stated about her Hoosiers hoop team.
But they never imagined that they would still be standing center stage at Bridgewater-Raritan High.
“In 2015 we stepped in to help fill a void,” Wallace-Gunning recalled. “And we have never left.”
“We thought it was going to be a one-shot deal, but we were wrong,” her husband added.
He further described what has kept him and his wife in their present role.
“We came here and discovered that this is an opportunity to give kids a chance to act. The kids have been great.”
Dr. Laura Bassett, the Supervisor of Arts Education for the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District, applauds the performances of the adult directors and the positive impact they have on the students and the community..
“Mr. and Mrs. Gunning work tirelessly to create opportunities for our BRHS theater students. They do it all - build sets, design costumes, hang lights, choreograph, direct, organize, and oversee every aspect of each production,” Dr. Bassett said. “Even more incredible than their expertise and talent is their commitment to developing student leadership and ownership of the productions and theater program. Under their guidance, students are involved in every aspect of the work, both on-stage and back-stage. Our students are learning more than performance - they are creating, innovating, collaborating, and leading. This is arts education at its best!”
The Thespian Honor Society consists of the students who follow the guidance of their loyal directors.
“The kids run the entire show, from acting to directing to serving on the crew,” Wallace-Gunning reported.
To earn an elite membership in the Thespian Honor Society, a student must be at least a sophomore in high school and must accumulate enough points during the course of the year while participating in numerous types of performing arts, according to Teresa.
One student who is wearing two hats during this performance is senior Samantha Barnes, who plays the role of Philosopher in the play and is also one of the student directors.
“Right now we are here rehearsing four days a week, but I love it and I would be here more if I could,” said Samantha, who plans on pursuing theater in college.
She revealed that she enjoys being an actress because “ I like exploring what the actor is doing and working with others.”
Samantha explained that directing is appealing, too, because “I like thinking of what the characters are thinking and why people do what they do.”
She will be accompanied on stage during the performance by the following Bridgewater-Raritan High students and their roles:
Sidak Chahal is the lead character, Antigone.
Cameron Knauf is Crreon.
Indiana Lu is Ismene.
Amelia Ludwig is Kiss of Death.
Derek Boxer is Polyneices.
Matthew Pelc is Eteocles.
The chorus consists of Tim Gaffney, Rebecca Puszkin, Julianne Maloney, Mattingly Niles and Brett McManus.
The following high school students make up the production staff.
Evan Gilmurray is the production stage manager, Christina Nowakowski and Matthew Jimenez-Heymann are the assistant stage managers, Meera Gharat is the lighting designer and Lila Dettelback is the soundboard.
The remaining members of the Thespian Honor Society who will pitch in with various roles to assist in the production are LJ Aponte, Grant Beck, Fallon Billy, Alaina Gust, Ava Hathaway Amanda Hirsch, Malena Krause, Franny Murray, Julia Pedroso, Harjas Saini and Jasmine Saini.
“The BRHS Thespian Honor Society Troupe 5154 production is a highlight of our BRHS fall performance season each year,” Dr. Bassett declared. “ This student-led production is not-to-be-missed.”
While the directors and their students step it up and “we’ll be here six days a week leading up to the play,” said Gunning, the high school’s Theater Arts program will start practicing for the second show of the school year, “Puffs,” which will be performed in December.
That show is not just limited to Thespian Honor Society students. The entire high school is eligible to participate.
“Kids come from all over and we promote it to all students,” Wallace-Gunning reported.
In fact, while the cast and staff prepare for “Antigone,” the early stages of “Puffs” will be launched.
“We will be rehearsing for two shows at the same time,” Gunning said. “This is my favorite time of the year.”
That statement carries much truth when he revealed that “this is how I spend my vacation. I do not go to the beach or to Disney World. I am here in the auditorium.”
“At times, I think we live here,” his wife said.
The third and final performance of the school year will be the musical “Anything Goes” that will be staged during April in the auditorium. That show is also open to all students.
And that final show will provide more work come spring.
But that is relished by this passionate couple.
“We are not from the theater, we are in the theater,” Gunning stated before he went back on stage to assist his student actors during the rehearsal.
Eventually, he and his wife went home after rehearsal and then they turned off the lights.