The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

May 1, 2014

Camanche Student writes, directs play

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CAMANCHE — Very few high school students have the opportunity to watch as their creativity and artistry blossom on a theater stage in front of them, but on May 9, that fantasy will come true for one Camanche student.

Nathaniel Melvin, or “Nate the Great” as he’s affectionately known by students and faculty at Camanche High School, had an inspiration to write a play based on his favorite stories of detectives Sherlock Holmes and Scooby-Doo. That inspiration carried even further when he received support from not only his teacher Sarah Erwin and the school’s theater director Aaron Westrum, but the entire student body and faculty of the school.

What makes it even more unique is that Melvin isn’t the average 17-year-old high school student. As a child he was diagnosed with autism with complications in sensory and pervasive development. His mother, Regina, explained that when she found out about his condition, doctors told her that he would never function as a normal adult, maybe not even learning to walk or talk.

Now he is defying those odds as a highly functioning high school student who’s about to direct and narrate his very first play.

”Autism is such a huge umbrella,” Regina said. “I consider him high functioning because he is able to take care of his daily needs, because there are kids who can’t speak at all. He will never be able to drive a car or hold down a regular job so this is really something very special for him.”

Nate is doing much more than speaking now. He is inspiring his fellow students and commanding a nine-member cast to make his play exactly how he sees it in his head. He’s also using his love of Holmes and Scooby Doo as guidelines for how he expects the performance to unfold.

Erwin calls Nate a “take charge kind of guy,” when it comes to his directorial debut on the stage, but the true revelation that she sees is the kind of effect he has on both the students and the faculty of the Camanche School District.

”In the years he’s been here, Nate has made these awesome relationships with the teachers and students in both the high school and middle school,” she said. “It’s really neat to see this all come full circle with everyone who’s involved.”

Because of those relationships, he was received with an outpouring of support when he finished writing the who-done-it ghost mystery and opened the play up for auditions, an audition process that Westrum said wasn’t as selective as his may have been.

”Nate picked out the costumes he thought represented the characters he created and just handed them out to the kids who volunteered at the audition,” Westrum said. “If the costume fit, the student was cast.”

While Westrum has been impressed with Nate’s commitment and dedication to putting on the production, he has also been impressed with the way the cast has embraced the story-line and the director’s strict guidelines.

He added that having the opportunity to work with Nate has been an eye-opening experience for many of his Thespian students.

”The students all have a really great attitude and a high level of patience with our director,” Westrum said.

Not only have those students dedicated three weeks of their time to making Nate’s vision a reality, they also helped come up with an idea for the proceeds of the play. Instead of going back into the school’s theater budget as is typical with the department’s regular productions, the group instead suggested all the money earned at the play’s one-night-only showing be donated to the Camanche schools’ Special Olympics team.

It’s because of that kind of support that Erwin believes putting on this self-written play was even a possibility for Nate or any of those involved.

”He’s really had a lot of doors opened for him here in the Camanche School District,” she said. “The other students show him such respect and he’s really allowed to be himself here. I think that’s really opened him up and made him a pretty popular kid around here.”

While Nate has embraced his fame as the school’s newest play director, he is more enthusiastic to see his story come to life on the stage and seeing the crowd enjoy the work he has done.

For him, this is like watching his favorite episode of Scooby Doo happening at his high school, and he couldn’t be more thrilled that others will get to enjoy it with him.

”I can’t wait to say thank you to everyone for being in the audience,” Nate-the-Great said. “And I want to say to everyone, happy hunting and solving mysteries whoever you are.”