By JEROD CLAPP
JEFFERSONVILLE — Just a few months after seeing each other for the first time in about 10 years, they both found out they were taking center stage together.
Juli Biagi, a sophomore at Jeffersonville High School and her cousin, Reilly Northam, a junior, have the lead roles in the school’s production of “Our Town” and “Pride and Prejudice.”
Separated by 2,000 miles until this summer, the pair connected not just when Biagi moved to Jeffersonville, but when they discovered they shared a passion for theater.
“I think that was the biggest thing, knowing she was here,” Biagi said. “Being the new kid, it was nice to know that I’d have a connection. She’s one of the main reason I was able to make friends, that was really cool to get close to her again.”Biagi, originally from California, said she grew up singing with her father and acting from fifth grade on, studying at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif. When she found out she was moving to Southern Indiana, she said she had no idea that the region has something of a pedigree for high school drama.
“It was really cool because you usually do think of California with Hollywood and lots of actors and stuff,” Biagi said. “But there are a lot of talented people here and that’s really cool to see that in a little Midwest town. It’s nice to know that everyone here is as pumped about theater as I am.”
Northam said once she learned her cousin was moving nearby, they got to know each other over the Internet. She said at first, she was a little intimidated knowing she was up against a cousin who studied theater in California, but a lunch meeting with the two helped them both see how down-to-earth they were.“I would see her in certain pictures and just think ‘she’s probably so talented,’ I was nervous to meet her,” Northam said. “But she’s so modest, she’s so sweet. It did intimidate me at first, but then I met her and she’s amazing.”
Northam’s path in theater wasn’t too different from Biagi’s. From a young age, she said she was interested in dancing, but started acting when she was 8 years old. She performed at the Clarksville Little Theater then starting taking drama classes at the Southern Indiana School for the Arts.
From the time she was a freshman in high school, she said she “dove head first” into the theater program there.
Michael Howard, one of the theater directors, said he didn’t realize they were cousins until later this school year, but he’s glad to have both of them on board for their productions.
“Juli and Reilly, they’re just two fun and energetic young women,” Howard said. “They’re both so humble and ready to work at any time you need them to. They’re spot on and really leaders.”But neither has seen the other’s show yet. Since both are opening this weekend, they haven’t been able to watch each other’s rehearsals. They’ll see their performances for the first time Thursday and Friday.
But that hasn’t kept the two of them from providing support in difficult rehearsals.
“Sometimes, we’ll text each other about being nervous and we’ll just talk each other through it,” Northam said.
For “Our Town,” Howard said students in the show get a look at a different way to present theater to an audience — almost completely without props.
“It’s a very interesting one because it’s not the glitz and the glam that people are used to when they come to a high school show,” Howard said. “As a director, it’s been a challenge for me to strip everything away, because the message of the story is that when you take everything away, do you really notice every little thing in your life and all the things you take for granted?”
Northam said she’s really excited to see how Biagi and the rest of the cast perform the show.
But Howard said “Pride and Prejudice” and “Our Town” share a challenge for students — with both shows set in the 1800s and 1900s, respectively, learning the lingo and how to speak it have been difficult.
“I think both of these have been a challenge in the language barrier because kids don’t speak this way,” Howard said. “For them to have to break that down day after day has really worn on them. For a little while, some of them didn’t know what they were saying.”
Northam said it’s nice to have the support of her theater family for both her and Biagi, but knowing their families at home both feel invested in them also helps.
“We see each other with our family and everyone was really excited about it, they all talk about with each other,” Northam said. “It’s nice to have that, all of your family interested in it and not just one part of it.”