19th Century New York and Merry-old England Were the Sites for the OMS and AHS Fall Plays

Both OMS and AHS thespians turned to legendary characters from the past for their fall plays this year. OMS chose an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving's spooky tale about a haunted town in upstate New York. In contrast, the AHS Drama Guild took audience members to merry-old England for a gender-bending play that turned the story of Robin Hood on its head.

Ichabod, a one act play by Craig Sodaro, was appropriately presented four days before Halloween. Director and Gibbs French teacher Anne Zachary was drawn to the play by her love of seasonal reading and viewing, and the fact that it is based on one of the most iconic pieces of American literature. She also knew it would be familiar to the audience since, as she states, “Even if people haven’t read the original story, most know the names Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.”

Putting together the show in a little more than a month and a half was a challenge, as was choosing a cast of 29 from the talented students who wanted to participate. At the first meeting, the interested young people received a monologue from the play which they could choose to memorize or not. Many students who did not get a speaking role became part of the crew of seven or were in the ensemble that was created for this particular production.

A self-described “theater kid” prior to college, Ms. Zachary believes that “Drama gives all actors (regardless of age) an appropriate and safe space to explore any emotions, positive or negative. Drama is SO important for the middle school age group as it gives students a creative outlet and, depending on the role, even an emotional outlet. Young performers often feel a great sense of belonging by participating in theater.” While she chose to pursue her interest in languages rather than choose a theater career, she has been one of the drama advisors at Gibbs and has now directed a play at OMS. She says, “I love having a job that combines two of my greatest passions.”

The theme that most captured the imagination of Director and AHS Drama teacher Michael Byrne in Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood: Teen Edition, was the importance of community and the support found within. This is very present in the play, as is the theme of individual identity both within the group and for ourselves. These two themes are complimentary, because, as Mr. Byrne describes, ”In order to contribute to the community, your own identity must be honored. It has to be seen and valued. No one can contribute to the group unless they see themselves as a whole and as a worthy and honest part of that group as an individual.”

The 33 cast members embraced this and the other themes wholeheartedly, as they competed in archery contests, romped through Sherwood Forest, fought Prince John’s men, entered into relationships, and adjusted to surprises. The play requires a lot of physicality, and a professional fight choreographer, Jay Connolly, provided amazing staging for the fight scenes. Junior El Conlan served as the fight captain, taking Mr. Connolly’s staging and making sure it was consistent and safe. A “fight call” was held before each rehearsal and performance, meaning that every piece of stage combat was performed–first at 25%, then at 50%, 75%, and finally full. El’s responsibility during those calls was to make sure everyone stayed safe and kept to the choreography.

The set was especially striking and effective. The new auditorium manager, Hal Knowlton, built and designed the set and lights, and AHS Visual Art teacher Niki McCulloch and her Art Club students painted it. Mr. Byrne was delighted at the collaboration between himself, Mr. Knowlton, and Ms. McCulloch. The team put their ideas together to create the look of the show, and more students were able to be involved in a more significant way than in the past. Having the Maker Space on the same floor as the auditorium was helpful as well as the larger backstage area in the new space. Now that there is a fly loft, more things can fly in and out. The wonderful trees of Sherwood Forest (backed by netting from an old batting cage that was donated by Athletic Director John Bowler) were a great example of what can now be done. 

 Mr. Byrne believes that besides the physicality of the play, the students responded to the contemporary lens of the piece. The group doesn’t usually have the chance to work with a living, practicing playwright like Adam Szymkowicz. When a few changes in the script were requested, he was very responsive. The Merry Men also enjoyed having a song, composed by AHS student Moon Hackbarth Davis and accompanied by another student, Isa Bane. Additionally, Ms. McCulloch invited students to submit a design for the poster, T-shirt, and program cover. The winning poster was the creation of Miles Weiner, and Boe Bendezu created the winning T-shirt and program cover. Parent and professional photographer Bryce Vickmark volunteered his time to take the AHS photographs included with this article.