On Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., “The Black Heart,” a play conceptualized by junior James Simpson, will return to Gaither High School in the Jerry Skora Auditorium for a final show.
The student-written, directed and produced musical is described by Simpson as “a cult classic.”
The play premiered in Jan. 2019, telling the story of Jon, a pirate who always did what he could to help the captain but when their relationship met with some hardship, no one in the ocean was safe.
This year’s production will have a new cast and a new, improved set.
Simpson, who is the only actor reprising a role, said “this year’s show is going to be seen the way it was intended,” and that it will be “more understandable of how the plot ends up the way that it does.”
The play was “born out of the collaboration of the three friends that wrote it. Each of the writer’s ideas work in harmony together to create this story of friendship, betrayal and heartbreak. I have never had more fun in a role than I did when I played Jon in last year’s production,” student director and senior Audrey Rey said.
What started as an idea at lunch gradually turned into Simpson writing rough drafts in class and lyrics in his free time. Simpson tested his ideas on his tablemates until he was finally ready for editing.
Simpson, a freshman at the time, brought his work to fellow student Chris Korloch. Chris and his younger brother, Matt Korloch, who wrote the music, were integral pieces in the whole production.
“The collaboration between both of them really brought the show together. “Black Heart” wouldn’t be what it is without any of them,” Simpson said.
Simpson then sent the work to William Albritton, Gaither’s theatre director, through a student-teacher communication service. His message was not answered, and his work was later described by Albritton as “rough.”
Simpson and the Korlochs kept working.
Simpson noted the encouragement he received from his parents and the Korlochs’ father, Rick. Rick had given Simpson access to his recording equipment and gifted him books to help with the process. Rick always reminded Simpson how amazing it was that he was working so hard.
When it came to the production of last year’s show, Simpson hit every obstacle imaginable.
The original director dropped out, they did not receive the costumes until the day of the performance and all funding came out of the pockets of those involved in the project. The group tried to make the best of what they had, using friends’ Gasparilla costumes and accessories to bring the pirates of “The Black Heart” to life.
One of the biggest challenges for Simpson was working so closely with the theatre program while not being enrolled in any theatre classes. All the work was done on his own time, without immediate access to the stage, the actors or the director.
“As each thing happened, I kept asking myself: are we gonna be able to do this and will it be worth it?” Simpson said.
Simpson was told that a second running of the play wouldn’t be possible, and he became “turned off by the idea.” But after being asked to run it again, Simpson decided to give it a chance.
Now, months later, Simpson has “fallen in love with the show all over again.”
Simpson is only a junior, but it isn’t likely for “The Black Heart” to have a third round. Simpson urges those who attend the Friday night show to “have fun, have an open mind and play along.”