CARMEL VALLEY — When Emma Stratton landed the lead role in Canyon Crest Academy’s production of “South Pacific,” director Jeannine Marquie suggested she read excerpts from James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” on which the play is based. Little did Marquie know her leading lady could tap into a source much closer to home for character development.
Emma’s great-grandfather, Floyd Conkright, experienced life in the South Pacific as an electronic technician with the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was in Okinawa, Japan, during the last big battle.
Emma said she was aware of her great-grandfather’s military service, but didn’t make the connection when she was first cast as Nellie Forbush. “I asked him some questions,” she said. “He told me his story. It helped.”
The play is “definitely a leaning experience” for 16-year-old Emma, a junior at Canyon Crest. “It’s different than anything I expected,” she said. “A lot of the songs are classical and I’m not really a classical singer. But it’s great. It’s really fun.”
A veteran of other school plays and community theater troupes, this is Emma’s first part in a Canyon Crest production. “I’m thankful for the role,” she said. Although she could have gone to La Costa Canyon High School about a mile from her La Costa Valley home, Emma chose to make the 35-mile round trip to Canyon Crest partly because of the school’s Envision Theatre program.
It’s been more than 60 years since Conkright boarded the USS Briareus in the South Pacific for the three-month trip home to Kansas. This week he’s traveling from Kansas to Southern California to experience a slightly different “South Pacific,” in which his great-granddaughter is the star.
“I want to do him proud,” Emma said. “He had a hard time over there.”
Show times are 7 p.m. Nov. 7, Nov. 8 and Nov. 15, 2 p.m. Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 and 4 p.m. Nov. 14. Tickets, which are $5 to $15, are available at the door or online at www.cca-envision.org. Opening night will feature a preshow Hawaiian barbecue for an additional $10. Those tickets must be purchased by Nov. 5.