Thursday, March 28, 2002

It’s play time again at Cape Middle School

Published in the Current

The Cape Elizabeth Middle School Drama Club will be putting on the musical, “Peter Pan,” this year, with a cast of 125 middleschoolers.

The show will be up April 5, 6 and 7 at the middle school cafetorium.

It’s the sixth musical and the seventh production the club has put on in as many years. It began when the middle school renovations were finished in the mid-1990s, putting in performance space along with the cafeteria. Before that, there was a stage at one end of the gym, but that was less than ideal, said teacher and Drama Club advisor, Stephen Price.

At that time, kids said they wanted to get involved in dramatic productions, even though there was not much equipment in the school – not even a curtain over the stage or a good lighting setup, Price said.

Price grew up around the theater, and did set work in college. He now works with the local stagehands union, working backstage at events at Merrill Auditorium and the Cumberland County Civic Center. And he’s an eighth grade science and math teacher.

Things have worked out well at the middle school, with a lot of help from parents and town residents.

“The wonderful thing about this community is the support for the arts,” Price said.

After the first year’s success with a small show adapting some of the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, Price was approached by student musicians who offered to play their instruments if the next performance was a musical.

“This was kid-generated,” Price said. The middle school’s principle of inclusiveness applied to the Drama Club as well: if you want to be a part of it, you can be.

This year there are 40 Indians and 30 “lost boys,” groups normally much smaller on stage but expanded to involve everyone who wanted to perform.

Parents volunteer to help supervise rehearsals, which are done in smaller groups to minimize disruption.

Teachers also get involved, helping with everything from printing programs and posters to rehearsing the musicians.

Several parents also have come in to help sew costumes, and equipment for the production is borrowed from local companies and schools, Price said.

“It’s got a community element that goes beyond the school,” he said. And the school budget has found room for the middle school play as well. Last year they bought a $35,000 lighting system. In the past, purchases have ranged from a curtain for the show to a large ladder to use while rigging sets.

Price also is getting a hand in his classroom. Last year was the first year the school’s principal, Nancy Hutton, hired a substitute teacher for two weeks to allow Price time to work on the show and clean up afterward.

This year, instead of a sub, three local parents will step in to fill Price’s shoes. Two medical doctors, Hector Terrazza and Robert Winchell, and Bob Harrison, a chemical engineer. It means Price won’t have to stay at the school all night working on the play after a full day in the classroom.

But neither can he take his students down to the cafetorium to help him out, while they work math problems dividing pieces of plywood into the right shapes for the set.

“I don’t get a chance to teach using the play anymore,” Price said.

The performance takes commitment from the students, too, and includes people in all the grades at the middle school. They sign up in December, audition in January and then start rehearsal in February.

“They’re kids who really care about doing this,” Price said. Including the cast, crew and musicians, the performance involves about one-quarter of the school’s population, Price said. Its pervasiveness is catching. Price said he sometimes hears kids walking down the hall singing songs from the play, and then realizes those kids aren’t even in the show—they’ve heard it from their friends.

He said he considers theater a “lifetime sport,” something the kids can do at any age in any community.

But, he said, the middle school drama efforts put pressure on the high school’s drama program, which has smaller casts. More kids are coming to the high school with acting experience, and are finding they don’t have outlets for that, Price said.

But Price sees in theater a chance for everyone to work together, in areas of their own expertise, from music to set building to sound, lighting and costume design. “It’s the perfect whole-school, whole-community project,” he said.