Students Take On Identity in ‘Disappearance of Daniel Hand’

The cast of "The Disappearance of Daniel Hand," to be performed at Idyllwild Arts Academy. 
FRONT: Ana-Lauryn Adderly
COUCH: Nico Yasko, Chelsea Sik, Parker Anderson, Ariel Eakin
REAR: Rowin M. Breaux, MacKenzie ShapiroThe cast of "The Disappearance of Daniel Hand," to be performed at Idyllwild Arts Academy. FRONT: Ana-Lauryn Adderly COUCH: Nico Yasko, Chelsea Sik, Parker Anderson, Ariel Eakin REAR: Rowin M. Breaux, MacKenzie Shapiro
The cast of "The Disappearance of Daniel Hand," to be performed at Idyllwild Arts Academy.  FRONT: Ana-Lauryn Adderly COUCH: Nico Yasko, Chelsea Sik, Parker Anderson, Ariel Eakin REAR: Rowin M. Breaux, MacKenzie Shapiro

Some of the Idyllwild cast of “The Disappearance of Daniel Hand.”
Front: Ana-Lauryn Adderly
Couch: Nico Yasko, Chelsea Sik, Parker Anderson, Ariel Eakin
Rear: Rowin M. Breaux, MacKenzie Shapiro. Photo courtesy: Craig Fleming.

By Julie Pendray

IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Theatre students at Idyllwild Arts Academy will take on the subject of identity in this weekend’s show, “The Disappearance of Daniel Hand” by award-winning playwright Dan O’Brien.

They are led in their performance by guest director Craig Fleming whose background includes Walt Disney Imagineering, Cal State Long Beach, South Coast Repertory and Orange County School of the Arts.

The play is about a film club student, Daniel, who mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a few clues. A fellow young filmmaker, Shannon, goes looking for him and creates a documentary along the way. As she talks to people, she learns that Daniel seems to have different identities, depending on whom she interviews. Daniel is an artist, athlete, drug user, honors student. He’s brilliant. He could be a religious fanatic.

But Shannon wonders, “Can he possibly be all these ‘different’ people?”

“The point is that anyone’s identity is fluid,” said Fleming in an interview at Cafe Aroma in Idyllwild recently.

Craig Fleming directs "The Disapperance of Daniel Hand," which shows at Idyllwild Arts Academy this weekend. Photo Courtesy: Craig Fleming.

Craig Fleming directs “The Disappearance of Daniel Hand,” which shows at Idyllwild Arts Academy this weekend. Photo Courtesy: Craig Fleming.

Our own sense of self can depend on the perception of those around us and the labels they give us.

“Who you are told you are is how you live,” Fleming said. He said the subject is perfect for teenagers because “they’re in the process of searching for identity. It’s gotta be pretty hard to be a teenager right now.”

Fleming described his view of “a worldwide culture where around every corner lurks someone waiting to turn us from subject to object, to reduce our complexity into mere facets in the blink of an eye.”

“I can’t help but worry,” he said.

He reflected on the way indigenous tribes used to believe that cameras pointed at them could steal their souls. He sees similarity in today’s ever-present cameras. He’s concerned that young people face the pressure of trying to develop their identities while they’re under the constant glare of these devices and new media.

“In our hyper-mediated world, it’s easy, especially during the emotional swirl of adolescence, to feel disconnected and inauthentic, to feel the need to disappear. So, let’s remember that. Let’s remember the value of setting aside those devices — with their power of stealing souls — so we might free ourselves to reach out a helping human hand.”

O’Brien wrote “The Disappearance of Daniel Hand” 10 years ago. It was originally set in Brooklyn and upstate New York. High school students all over the country perform it. Idyllwild’s version is set at the arts academy, then at Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and Union Station. Shannon, Daniel’s friend, is from “the mountains, near Palm Springs.”

At a rehearsal at the arts academy last week, Fleming encouraged the cast to project their voices even further, during a loud party scene. “You want the back row to fall in love with you. It’s the Holy Mission!” he said.

It’s a mantra he repeated as some students worked to overcome stage shyness.

“You’re in a studio loft at Venice Beach,” he explained to them. “When you look at the audience, pretend you’re looking at amazing art on the wall. There’s a window here. You can see the lights at the pier.”

He especially liked what they were doing physically on stage.

“I love it! The blocking. The movement. The depth of it,” he told them.

In the scene, Marvin Gaye is heard in the background as the students dance, hang out, check each other out. A creep approaches Shannon and asks her friend where he found such a “nice girl.” It’s not meant as a compliment. Everyone is getting high except her.

The script is “uncomfortably close to real life,” according to a previous reviewer of this play, Jane Mattingly of The Arts Louisville.

Fleming is an actor, writer, director and educator. Among his objectives, he seeks to “broaden horizons, stoke creativity, and inspire empathy in audiences, students, and the world-at-large,” according to his web site.

“The Disappearance of Daniel Hand” will be staged in the IAF Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Idyllwild Arts Academy is a residential high school for art students from the United States and all over the world. All student performances at the academy are free of charge.

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