The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Chris Graham, who plays Ichabod Crane. Photo courtesy of Aaron Compagna and Joel Mercier.

See The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Where: Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry
When: Friday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $14

Character infusion
NH Theatre Factory shows kids how with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

By Kelly Sennott

The 100-seat Jefferson Mill theater had been empty almost two years after the Manchester-based youth theater company, the Acting Loft, went under, but the NH Theatre Factory is bringing it back to life.

The company has been using the theater as a rehearsal space for its 21-person youth production, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which will be performed at the Derry Opera House March 27 and March 28. 
On the evening of March 11, the 21-person cast, aged 8 to 18, was working on the show’s final details. At that point in time, they’d received lessons from professional dance and fight choreographers Andrew Chartier and Alex Jacobs from New York and Boston, respectively. The next challenge was to get the kids to perform these scenes while in character the whole time. Artistic director Joel Mercier stood at the front of the stage, pounding this idea into their brains.
“Think about how your character will interact with each person you encounter,” he told them. “We’ve got the steps down pretty well. So now it’s all about infusing these extra pieces in. Vocals, character, really getting in there and making it all come to life! … If our characters don’t have opinions about what they’re saying or what they’re doing, they become really flat and don’t look real at all.” 
The kids tried again, and he continued to remind them over the music: “Let’s hear some enjoyment! This is fun, right?”
In response, they hooted, hollered and clapped in Sleepy Hollow fashion. 
The play is a musical based on American author Washington Irving, and it follows inane schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in his move to the Sleepy Hollow farming community. Ichabod tries to woo the striking Katrina Van Tassel but encounters trouble when local Brom Bones discovers his intentions. Things become even more complicated when a phantom Headless Horseman emerges into the night.
Mercier has been pushing the cast to figure out how to become these characters, to feel what they’re feeling and understand why they do what they do and say what they say. Rehearsals began with a table reading and in-depth discussion of the story. 
Some of the cast came from the NH Theatre Factory’s summer intensive training program. Others are from the youth theater scene. Sleepy Hollow was chosen because it was lesser-known, and thus would be more challenging for the kids. Also, unlike many musicals, which feature four or five principles and a gigantic ensemble, every Sleepy Hollow character has a name and place.
“We wanted to make this truly an extension of our training program,” Mercier said during a phone interview. “If you do Beauty and the Beast, you may have seen the production or the movie, and there’s a big element of just copying the production. We thought [producing Sleepy Hollow] would be a better opportunity for kids to build their characters from scratch.”
This production has a mix of new and experienced young actors. Madison Bergethon, 18, had never performed outside the theater ensemble. She’s Widow Van Doorn, the crazy “self-proclaimed oldest woman in town,” Bergethon said, who likes to dance and cook by graveyards. 
Theater alum Emily Casko, 14, has performed with a number of New Hampshire youth theater programs and is enjoying the change of pace. She’d worked with Mercier for the Palace’s production of A Christmas Carol and auditioned for Sleepy Hollow because she liked his directing style. She plays Katrina Van Tassel.
“He really lets us get into the character with our movements,” Casko said mid-rehearsal. “He gets us to understand the meaning behind the line.”
She’s been practicing the music on her own time — Mercier sent them all audio files with and without lyrics — and she’s been thinking about her character outside of rehearsal too.
Since the NH Theatre Factory began, Mercier said, the number of families involved has tripled. The company is still very young — Sleepy Hollow is only its second production, ever — and is continuing to grow. When fully established, the company will comprise three branches: mainstage, education and new works development. But there’s still much to do, including fundraising and finding a permanent company home. 
As seen in the March 19, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu