By Marcy Stamper
When you want to do a theatrical production with talking trees and chatty mice and a moon that turns into a mountain, there’s no better way than to enlist the imagination of young people.
A collaboration has harnessed the creativity of elementary students at the Methow Valley Community School and Liberty Bell High School. It brings two short folk tales to life in the Community School’s annual holiday production this Thursday (Dec. 10).
Community School teachers selected two stories — Fox Brings the Forest, a Snoqualmie creation legend, and a folk tale called The Telltail Mouse and the Douglas Fir written by Community School teacher Sabrina Freedman. They proposed the idea to Danbert Nobacon, who, as drama coach at Liberty Bell, team-teaches the drama class with English teacher Kelly Grayum. The drama class has turned the stories into stage plays, writing dialogue and helping design and build props.
“It’s kind of cool to see how we could make the stories our own,” said freshman Lillian Cooley. Still, it was difficult, because the folk tales didn’t start out with any dialogue at all, she said.
Not only was there no dialogue, but none of the characters could really be expected to talk, since there are no humans in either play — only trees, foxes, wolves and mice.
“It’s really been fun to figure out the characters — and figure out what they would say,” said junior Kyla Colon. “For example, the trees talk really slow and the mouse is super-happy.”
The drama students used some improvisation to figure out how the characters would behave — they acted out a mouse that alternated between cute and crazy and dramatic and flustered, they said.
“It’s sometimes difficult to take stories not meant to be in a play and turn them into a play,” said junior Nate Hirsch.
The Community School students will be the main actors, although the high school students appear in the play as trees and narrators. For several of them, it’s also a bit of a homecoming, since three of the drama students are Community School alumni.
Working with the high school group has been great, since they encouraged the younger students as they built props and worked on sets together, said Freedman.
Nobacon said he helps students develop confidence in their own creativity and imagination. “My approach — building on my punk-rock background — is that everyone knows their own stories, and can build on the tension and drama to write stories or songs,” he said.
At the first dress rehearsal this week, the high school students helped the younger actors move fluidly on stage, prompting them to make good use of the entire space, said Grayum. They’re also working on technical aspects such as lighting.
The process has been interesting, since they typically focus on acting as opposed to producing a play, said sophomore Cash McClane. “It’s interesting to take the helm and look at the whole thing, and to understand the complexity of what directors do,” he said.
Last week students from both schools got together to cut and paint huge pieces of cardboard to create trees, mountains and the moon. They had to devise a way to have the moon fall out of the sky and morph into a mountain, said freshman Leo Shaw.
“It’s cool to help the Community School with the play, and to brainstorm ideas for the props,” said Hirsch.
The drama students are developing an original three-act play, with original songs, that they will perform at the end of the school year, said Grayum. They have spent most of the semester focusing on that play and developing an understanding of what makes a great story and good dialogue, and working with the Community School has given them an opportunity to put that into practice, he said.
“It’s been good practice for them to coach other kids, create sets and work with other students, said Grayum.
The plays, along with a dessert auction and appetizers and drinks, will be presented at the Methow Valley Community Center gym on Thursday (Dec. 10). Doors open at 4 p.m., the plays are at 5 p.m., and the auction closes at 6 p.m. Admission is by donation.