Trolls, a giant & horses, oh my!
Everyone is a playwright in Gill Elementary’s ACT program
Witch Althea Tierney and Wizard Isaac Slaymaker
A scene from Glass Mountain at the Gill Town Hall by Gill Elementary ACT program.
The cast of Glass Mountain at the Gill Town Hall by Gill Elementary ACT program.
An enchanted horse, cloak and stick, missing royalty and insurmountable topography. “The Glass Mountain” has the key ingredients of a Grimm fairy tale, with a few improvements.
On a Tuesday afternoon last week, a cast of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Gill Elementary’s ACT after-school program were rehearsing a scene from an original theatrical adaptation of children’s book “The Glass Mountain” by Nonny Hogrogian, itself an adaptation of a Grimm fairy tale.
The cast has met two days a week after school since late March, first to write and then to rehearse the play. Its first and only public performance is Friday. During Tuesday’s rehearsal, the children were working on Act Two on a small stage in the Town Hall meeting room.
Outside, roofers hammered down the finishing touches on a new roof purchased with money appropriated at last year’s annual town meeting. The hall is usually empty; town meetings are among the few times the dais at the front of the room sees use, seating the moderator, selectmen and other town officials. On this day, it is ringed with a purple forest background, complete with toadstools and an owl, and echoing with the sounds of singing, electric wands and the occasional scream.
Screaming is one of the trickier bits.
“And the rest of you, you should be making a ruckus, please,” Gordon calls to a group of princesses, a queen and an enchanted horse attempting to scale a glass mountain. “It’s important that there’s a struggle.”
Gordon acknowledges this is an unusual thing, asking a group of elementary school students to make more noise.
Rehearsing without scripts and with a couple of actors absent, the rehearsal proceeds in true fairy tale fashion, with a fair degree of pandemonium and everything working out well in the end. Occasional prompts are needed, but everyone seems to have memorized their lines.
The students are just a few rehearsals away from their first performance, Tuesday, in front of the kindergarten through third grade classes, followed by a production for their classmates in the fourth through sixth grades Wednesday, and a final performance for parents and the community Friday.
Asked whether they are nervous about performing in front of the other students, there is an enthusiastic chorus of “no,” followed by equally enthusiastic variations on “maybe.”
“A tiny bit, like the size of a penny,” clarifies fourth-grader Ruthie Davis, who plays Florinda, one of the three fates. “Or a dime.”
Why participate in this after-school program, which takes up two hours after school twice a week? Because it’s fun, is the general consensus
“I thought I could get to know other kids and make some friends,” Ruthie said. Which has worked, she said.
“I’m doing it because last year I did it and it was really fun, and I really like acting and it was a way to act locally,” said third princess Maeve Beck.
“I’m doing it also because I did it last year and I thought it was really fun to act with all of my friends from school and a bunch of people I knew,” agreed fifth-grader Althea Tierney, who is Magica in the play.
This is the program’s second year and many in the cast are veterans of ACT’s debut production, “Too Many Doctors,” an adaptation of “The Imaginary Invalid” by celebrated French playwright Moliere.
This year, everyone’s a playwright.
The students brainstormed the plot and Gordon, a former Bement School drama teacher of almost 30 years and the author of several children’s books, committed it to paper.
“We came up with the basic ideas and then she wrote the actual wording,” said sixth-grader Ethan Shilo-Draper, who plays the role of the king. Gordon said the students wrote some of the dialogue in the initial workshops and they have worked in their particular talents where possible. Ethan, for instance, juggles hearts.
The elementary adaptation brings to the story a few extra characters, dialogue and a viable plot.
This “Glass Mountain” should not be confused with “The Glass Mountain” or “The Princess on the Glass Hill,” stories found in the pages of Andrew Lang’s Yellow and Blue Fairy Books; the first is full of death, golden apples and animal mutilation and the second is a bland progression of possibly magical horses, golden apples and shiny armor.
The version collected by the Brothers Grimm, called “The Raven,” is a disjointed tale featuring a glass mountain in a bit part and no golden apples. A queen with a troublesome daughter accidentally wishes her into becoming a raven, a metamorphosis no one seems to particularly regret, and the raven takes off for the forest. Eventually, a passer-by agrees to help set the raven free from her enchantment. There is little indication that she isn’t already free, given that she is capable of effective communication with German peasants and travels by carriage, both unusual for a bird. After repeatedly failing a simple test — not drinking — the man sets off to find the raven, who has given up and returned to her castle on a glass mountain. Through treachery and violence our hero acquires a magical cloak, stick and horse. These allow him to break into the castle, which he does. This is apparently for dramatic effect, given that the raven princess seems free to come and go. The princess is now free, by general consensus if in no other sense.
Program director Amy Gordon found a version of this story in a children’s book and used the framework to give the students a taste of writing their own play. From what seems originally to have been a confused parable regarding the dangers of accepting wine offered by witches, Gordon and the students have crafted a story of many lessons with continuity, humor and more princesses.
The students identify several lessons in their play.
“Be careful what you wish for,” contributes Ethan, who, with the queen, played by fifth-grader Elsie Almeida, is on the receiving end of many of the lessons.
“Friendship is more valuable than objects,” adds fifth-grader Madison Tombs, who plays a hunter, a troll and a thing.
High points of the play, as picked by the cast, include fifth-grader Maia Castro-Santos’ explanations, as Princess Holly, of the preferred diet of ravens and the useful attributes of spiders.
“My favorite part is when Magica is trying to turn Alicia into a raven. She becomes all these different kinds of animals like a lion, a dog a pig and then the raven, and it’s really kind of amusing,” said fourth-grader Michaela O’Donnell, who plays the part of twin Taren.
“My favorite part in the play is when the trolls keep on trying to climb the glass mountain but they keep on falling,” said fourth-grader Julie Sprankle, twin Karen.
“I’m quite fond of the part where I get to be very rude to an adult who is actually in our play and he directs a lot of my shows,” said eighth-grader Chloe Castro-Santos. “I don’t often get that opportunity.”
Maia’s older sister, Chloe plays the Glass Queen and the adult is David Grout: fifth grade teacher, community theater director and, in this case, a possibly narcoleptic giant.
The staging for parents and the community is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday in the second floor meeting room of the Gill Town Hall, 325 Main Road.
Gordon thanks the town staff downstairs for their patience with the rehearsals upstairs.
“The Town Hall people are just really, really nice people to put up with the patter of footsteps above them,” she said.
Admission is $3 for ages 14 and under, $5 for everyone else. The play may run about an hour and a quarter, Gordon estimates, with an intermission, and is appropriate for all ages.
ACT is funded in part by a grant from the Gill Cultural Council and by parent fees.
The cast, in order of appearance:
Hailey Wheeler as Griselda, Leah Timberlake as Cassandra, Ruthie Davis as Florinda, Elsie Almeida as the Queen, Althea Tierney as Magica, Isaac Slaymaker as Wizardo, Annika Lotze as Grabbity Gloom, Lilia Bonaceto as Raggedy Gloom, Ethan Shilo-Draper as the King, Luke Timberlake as Balderdash, Nadya Baum as eldest daughter Alicia, Maia Castro-Santos as middle daughter Holly, Maeve Beck as youngest daughter Eva, Julie Sprankle as twin Karen, Michaela O’Donnell as twin Taren, Josie Kocsis as Custer, Madison Tombs as Jasper, Sophia Gobiel as Phoebe, Chloe Castro-Santos as the Glass Queen and David Grout as the Giant. Many of the cast hold second and third roles as things, trolls, ravens and a horse.
Staff reporter Chris Curtis started at The Recorder in 2011. He covers Montague, Gill, Erving and Wendell. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.