'Sideways' play hits straight on

by Kathleen McDermott | 8/6/01 5:00am

In a dark Collis Commonground, over 100 Dartmouth students and community members watched Thursday evening as a simple stage decorated only with a blackboard and a dozen blue desks was transformed into a classroom at Wayside School, where students turn into apples, and pigtails sing and dance.

The play -- "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" -- was the culmination of two months of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes work on the part of twelve students from the White River Junction Templeton Court Apartments, under the directorship of Sarah Stokes '03 and funded through the Tucker Foundation.

Yet as Stokes explained, the idea for such a performance began years ago.

While only freshman in high school she read an article about someone who directed a play with students at an inner city school. Inspired, Stokes said the article "really gave [her] a reason for studying drama."

Drama allows children to develop their creativity and work together toward a common goal like few other pursuits, she explained.

And this summer, she added, provided the perfect timing to fully combine her twin passions of drama and service.

Approaching the Tucker Foundation, her request for project funding was approved.

The drama department also helped Stokes choose a play and provided some of the props, she added.

In order to enlist the most important ingredient -- the children -- Stokes enlisted the service of Devon Green '02, an AmeriCorps volunteer who is spending the summer living at Templeton Court Apartments and coordinating activities for the children who reside there.

Going around door-to-door, Stokes and Green were able to energize and recruit their actors and actresses, most of whom had no previous drama experience.

"It sounded really fun," Bianca Pelligrino, a student in the play said, explaining her involvement.

One boy in particular -- Wayne Miller -- was especially excited about the idea, and became one of Stokes' co-directors, along with Rebecca Taxier '03.

Over the past two months, Stokes and Taxier made the trek over to White River Junction for rehearsals two to four times a week. According to Felicia Lewis, another student in the play, although memorizing long lines was difficult at times, working together was overall a good experience.

"These kids worked really hard," Stokes added.

The night before, however, was fraught with tension. "We didn't go through ten minutes without stopping," throughout a six-hour dress rehearsal, she explained.

"I was a little worried," Stokes added.

Yet as the lights dimmed the night of the performance, all fell into place.

Five minutes into the show Green -- as the evil teacher Mrs. Gorf -- had turned all twelve children into giant shivering apples. The day was saved, however, when Mary Ann -- played by Pelligrino -- used a mirror to turn Mrs. Gorf herself into an apple, which was quickly eaten by a classroom visitor.

As the play progressed each member of the Wayside class took his or her turn in center stage.

With the evil teacher Mrs. Gorf gone and replaced by Mrs. Jewels -- played by Mischa Rich -- Mary Ann shone as the talkative student who really always "tries to be good."

When a burglar came to class, Mary Ann saved the day for a second time, handing him a spelling book and explaining that "knowledge is more important than money."

Several scenes later, the conflict centered on Paul -- played by Tristan Rich -- and the pair of tantalizing red pigtails that hang down right in front of his back-row seat.

"Pull me, Paul, pull me!" the pigtail sang, "just grab and tug!" Paul, who indulged in pulling the plaits, was sent home early on the kindergarten bus for his misdeeds.

The actors and actresses took their final bows to a standing ovation.

"The audience response was beautiful," Stokes said.

"I don't think I've ever done anything before that I was so touched," she added.

The children involved said they were similarly touched. According to Stokes, after the play ended Lewis said "I don't want to go to bed, I'm a star."

"Now that I know what it feels like to be in a play, I hope to be in more plays," Lewis told The Dartmouth.

"I just really hope there are others plays like this at Templeton," Pelligrino said.

Although there are no definite plans for future Dartmouth-directed plays, Stokes explained that the groundwork is already laid for an '04 to step up and direct a play next summer.

Stokes as well as Taxier now plans to join DREAM, a Dartmouth student-run mentoring program with the children at Templeton.

"These are amazing kids," she explained.

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