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Marble Falls theater arts students explore Paganini’s life in dark comedy

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — When Corey Bogue landed the lead role in Marble Falls High School’s production of “Paganini,” he began researching a man who, as a violinist and composer, created some of the most intricate musical pieces that still challenge musicians today.

But Nicolo Paganini also had a dark side, making the musician who lived from 1782 to 1840 the equivalent of a modern rock star.

“It was definitely challenging getting ready for this role,” Bogue said. “The time period is different, but what I did was try to imagine if he were alive today how would he react and what would he do.”

Theater arts teacher Jon Clark chose the production “Paganini” to challenge his students. As a dark comedy, “Paganini” forces the students to dig a bit deeper into their characters to draw out what makes them so compelling.

“This is not an easy play, not that any of the ones we do are,” Clark said. “But this one is so much more challenging on so many levels, from the characters to the stage setting.”

Nate Haywood (left), portraying the Clockmaker in the upcoming Marble Falls High School theater arts production of 'Paganini,’ meets the title character, played by Corey Bogue, in the clockworks shop. The Clockmaker tinkers and creates lifelike puppets and dolls such as the Clockworks Girl, played by Christine Ashbaugh (center).
Nate Haywood (left), portraying the Clockmaker in the upcoming Marble Falls High School theater arts production of ‘Paganini,’ meets the title character, played by Corey Bogue, in the clockworks shop. The Clockmaker tinkers and creates lifelike puppets and dolls such as the Clockworks Girl, played by Christine Ashbaugh (center).

“Paganini” is loosely based on the musician’s life. As a child, Paganini’s father taught him the violin. The younger Paganini flourished, eventually becoming one of the most famous musicians of his time and often now referred to as the world’s first “rock star.”

His violin abilities set him apart from his contemporaries, but even today’s musicians marvel at the complexities of the pieces he composed. During his lifetime, some surmised in Faustian fashion that he made a deal with the devil to attain such skill as a violinist.

The play, written by Don Nigro, plays on this rumor but also tells the story of a man both blessed and cursed by his ability and fame.

“It’s all about Paganini’s salvation,” Clark said. “He wanders through life making poor decisions but also in search of salvation. I’ll save whether he finds it or not for the actual play.”

The production hits the stage 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 15 and 2 p.m. Nov. 16 in the auditorium at Marble Falls High School, 2101 Mustang Drive. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth.

While other plays are less complicated, both dramatically and technically, Clark said “Paganini” offered what his students needed.

“Yes, I could have picked an easier production, but I need to challenge them. They need to be challenged,” he said. “If some of them decide to go onto college and study theater, they need the experience that a play like ‘Paganini’ gives them.”

The production pushes the cast both on and off the stage. With about 18 cast members, it’s one of the largest Clark’s students have tackled, making for several wardrobe changes. While the play only requires minimal set materials and props, each one of them were chosen for a specific meaning to the play.

“So you don’t just have a table or a barrel,” Clark said. “There’s a reason for that particular piece. And that has been one of the challenges: how to use the pieces so people can pick up on that meaning.”

The students began rehearsing shortly after school began. Among the rehearsals and regular school work, they also squeezed in creating a haunted house for Halloween.

“It’s been a busy year so far,” Clark said. “But the kids have been working hard.”

Bogue, who played an elderly man during the summer production of “Over the River and Through the Woods,” enjoyed the chance to stretch himself in another direction.

“Even though I’m closer in age to Paganini, he lived in a completely different time, so I’ve had to put myself in that time period,” he said. “But it’s really about putting myself into the character and finding out what makes him who he is.”

While “Paganini” deals with the darker parts of being human, it also focuses one thing everyone looks for — at least now and then — salvation.

daniel@thepicayune.com