The eighth grade has taken over Oates Theatre. The front section is filled with actors waiting to go on stage, while others are in the booth or drama room working on the production’s other elements. The stage is brightly lit, nicely showcasing the set’s shimmery blue skyline. Subway cars roll across the stage as the students rush to their places in between rehearsing different parts of the production. Middle School drama teacher Jenny Hundley says “Quiet backstage,” and the theatre’s lights dim as the actors practice the transition they have been working on.
The eighth grade play is a Middle School staple. It is largely student-run, with the help of faculty such as Hundley, Upper School Theater teachers R. Jonathan Shelley and Zach Townsend, Director of Performing Arts Mike Boyd, Middle School Assistant Head Lindsey Melvin, and much of the eighth grade faculty. Hundley is the chief faculty mentor, directing and leading the eighth graders through the process of creating and putting on a show. The play has no after-school rehearsals, instead using study halls and other in-school free time. “The process is really disjointed,” says Hundley. “[The Play Production Committee] only met as a group three times before auditions.” The experience is very immersive for the students involved, and it is a great opportunity to get eighth graders with different interest all working towards one common goal. “I think that it’s a good way to put people together and their strengths in specific areas,” said Jacob H (‘21), a member of the Sound Crüe.
Each year, the production alternates between a musical and an originally written play. Past years have
included The Little Mermaid, James and The Giant Peach, Jr., and Aladdin, as well as originals like the
Centennial Play and Schooled. While participation is not mandatory, the production tends to draw much interest. 80 kids performed in the show last week, with 28 on different Crües, and 15 working on publicity. Auditions have no cuts, and many students chose to be involved with anything from Sound Crüe to Makeup Crüe to publicity.
This year’s play, Matter of Time, follows two siblings on their way to school and the adventures that follow when they get caught on a New York City subway that travels through time. They go to worlds such as Candy World and Opposite World and meet all sorts of interesting characters. Dance and music are both involved as well; the music was composed by eighth graders Donovan W. and Andrew E., and the dance was choreographed by Becky P., Taly L. and Frances B.
The play was written by the Play Production Committee with the help of Hundley, an activity available to any interested eighth grader during the Middle School activity period. The committee had six members this year,
three of whom are in full-year drama. “We started off with a completely blank script… We eventually narrowed it down to science fiction.” said Jake L. (‘21), a member of the production committee. Because of time constraints, the committee worked through Google docs, and they held several improv workshops open to the grade as a way to generate ideas for the story. “Then we built the characters,” said Archie S. (‘21), another of the production committee’s members. Garland M. (‘21), another committee member, added that, “We wanted to have characters that build conflict.”
In writing, the committee always came back to the question of audience. Hundley emphasizes the question of “Who are we doing this for?” as she talks through the writing process. The eighth grade play tends to draw a younger audience, and the committee made sure to keep this in mind. Words like “idiot” and “shut up” were modified to suit the intended audience. The group also had help from the full year drama class students, who were involved in the process from the beginning.
Matter of Time had two performances: Friday, February 17th and Saturday the 18th. Both drew large turnout and support from many members of the Collegiate community. Older and younger audiences all responded positively and took away different things from the production. “It was an adorably crafted play that is even more impressive when you consider it was done by eighth graders,” said Dorsey Ducharme (’18) of his experience. “It was really well done, and fun to watch,” said Olivia Laskin (’17).
Photos courtesy of Abigail Winfree. Featured image courtesy of Collegiate School.