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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Falcon Focus: Ariana Tootoonchi shines on stage in 14 productions in her high school career 

Ilaria Keogh
Ariana Tootoonchi on stage in The Crucible as Mary Warren. 

Senior Ariana Tootoonchi gained widespread praise last fall for her heart-rending portrayal of Mary Warren in “The Crucible,” one of over 14 drama productions she has starred in over her high school career. 

“She played Mary Warren with so much passion and accuracy, and there was so much intensity in her voice she almost brought her to life,” said sophomore Nila Venktenerium, a tech crew member for the play. “It was amazing.”

“The Crucible”  examined dark times from the 17th century in colonial Massachusetts: During the Salem Witch Trials, mass hysteria arose from accusations of witchcraft leveled at a string of women. The actors playing the parts pushed far beyond their comfort zones as they attempted to convey the message of such a heavy piece. 

Tootoonchi’s acting style evoked drama and dejection as she portrayed a maid who couldn’t find a husband and simultaneously endured abuse from her masters.

Her passion for theater goes back to her early childhood years. Her first acting experience was in second grade, when she got the lead role in “Snowy Owl and the Seven Dwarfs” for her school play, an interpretation of Disney’s “Snow White.” She became especially serious about acting in eighth grade. 

“The stage has been the only place where I’ve truly felt free and myself. It’s so rare to find something like that in your life, so I don’t ever want to give that up,” Tootoonchi said. 

Beyond her skill as an actress, she has also served as the vice president of the drama board since her junior year. As part of her role, she plans events and acts and directs plays. 

Last March, she organized the New Works festival, a series of student-made productions performed in the Thermond Drama Center. Tootoonchi directed a play in the New Works festival written by senior Ryan Cagliostro and junior Cosmo Cooper called “Hit After Hit,” which followed a teen facing an abusive family member struggling with addiction.

She also acted in two student-made plays in the New Works festival. In “One Map to Inyo Country and a Note,” a dramatic piece written by class of ‘23 alumna Olivia Smith and directed by senior Ashly Henry, Tootoonchi played One, who was coping with the loss of her sister. In “Psychic Slacker,” a comedic piece written and directed by Cagliostro, she played Theo, whose goal is to just finish an essay and get a good grade. Theo is, however, unfortunately behind, and is distracted. 

Tootoonchi also helps organize charity events for drama and fundraises for upcoming productions. One example was last winter’s Coffeehouse Fundraising. 

“Students wrote original songs, acting pieces, poetry dances and a bunch of different artistic styles, and people submitted their work and then performed in front of students and parents who bought coffee and doughnuts,” Tootoonchi said. “There were a lot of supportive people who came and donated a lot of money.”

And, of course, her acting schedule has remained busy almost every moment of high school. Last year she played Red Rousseau in a play written by Class of ‘23 alumna Anastasia Ramirez and titled “Who made Robert De Niro King of America.” Rousseau was an aspiring playwright who had a dream to get his script into big productions companies. 

That fall, she also played Stephanie, who is in love with her best friend but won’t say it, in a student production of “Easy Heaven,” along with Mrs. Yang, a very arrogant mother who flaunts her son to the public, in “Good Person of Szechwan.” 

In the 14 plays Tootoonchi has acted and directed, she said her favorite role, besides Mary Warren in “The Crucible,” was Mrs. Smith in “Bald Soprano,” directed by Class of ‘23 alumnus Joe Bihar. 

“It was an absurdist play, and the craziest one I’d ever taken a part of,” she said. “None of the dialogue or blocking and movements made any sense. Not breaking character and not laughing was also something I struggled with. So all of us discovering that together and working through that together was really special.” 

In this year’s fall play, “Almost, Maine,” which opened Nov. 11 and 12, and runs through Nov. 16-18 in the McAfee Center, Tootoonchi has two lead roles, Phil and Gail with heavily contrasting personalities. Tootoonchi said Gail is a spontaneous kind of person as well as impulsive and irrational, making the scene feel slightly unhinged. As for Phil, he’s fed up with life and kind of just doing whatever he wants — Tootoonchi called him an angry old man. 

“They’re both very, very different people and it’s very interesting because of how different the scenes are,” she said. 

After high school, Tootoonchi said she dreams of becoming a screen actor. Among her top college choices are Chapman University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She previously attended an acting workshop at Chapman.

“The camp was really fun because I got to see what type of school I am interested in, and it solidified the fact that I want to go into this industry,” Tootoonchi said. 

Tootoonchi is excited for her future in drama after high school. 

“I love acting and being on stage,” she said. “Being able to immerse myself in different stories — it’s a huge part of my life and I’m excited for what is to come.”

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