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From left, Maggie Smith, Kathleen Serie and Jackie Ortmeier rehearse Thursday for the one-act play "Jack the Ripper." (Jennifer Jungwirth/Republic)

MHS students travel to 1800 London in one-act based on 'Jack the Ripper'

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MHS students travel to 1800 London in one-act based on 'Jack the Ripper'
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mitchell High School students are getting a history lesson during this year's one-act play selection.

"Jack the Ripper," written and directed by Melissa Vatter-Miller, is based on the real-life serial killer in London's Whitechapel District in the late 1880s.

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Students will take the horror show to the state one-act festival Feb. 2-4 in Aberdeen. A community show is set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Mitchell High School auditorium.

This is the largest cast senior Madi Miller has worked with in a one-act show.

"Jack the Ripper" has 30 actors and actresses and another 10 students working with lights, sound and other special effects.

The larger cast has benefited the production and the students, Vatter-Miller said.

"I have witnessed this group of students developing a broader spectrum on the stage rather than just within themselves," she said. "They are seeing how relationships blossom and flourish and how the history of the time allowed for only specific relationships of the class system. I have enjoyed watching how my students have taken characters, researched the real person within history and ascertained the qualities necessary."

The mystery of Jack the Ripper has never been solved. Over the years, Vatter-Miller said evidence had been obliterated and people have made assumptions as to who the killer was. The fact that the mystery went unsolved allowed her to get creative with writing the script, and add a twist to the end of the show.

Most of the students hadn't heard of Jack the Ripper, Vatter-Miller added.

"Walking into the world of the late 1800s and finding out about London, England, at the time was very fascinating to them. We would come to rehearsal and someone had always discovered a new fact. They find as curious as I do that the infamous case has never been solved," she said.

Learning has been fun, said Jackie Ortmeier. Her cast mate, sophomore Joseph Morgan, too, said he's enjoyed learning an English accent, along with the history of one of the world's most famous killers.

"It's fact, but with little indulgences," said Morgan, accentuating syllables with his newly learned accent.

Vatter-Miller said there are many styles of playwriting, and writing on a historical event allows for a portrait to be painted of a specific period of time.

"The characters expand that view of history and recreate moments," she said.

Portraying the 1800s in London has been difficult, she said, as the students have had to put in extra effort to learn the culture and a world far different than their own today.

"They've embraced it," she said. "And while it has been very difficult I have tried to add elements that would draw the young adults into the world. Many youth have become desensitized by the atrocities of our world, but deconstructing the case, time period and the culture has been an epiphany for them."

And as the students take the stage in February, Vatter-Miller said she hopes to accomplish one thing:

"It is far more important to us as a cast and crew to send a message, entertain and give an extraordinary portrait of life," she said.

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