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Nothing Can Slow Down a Group of Resilient, Motivated, and Talented Theater Students

The Heritage high school theater department has struggled through this past year with endless cancellations and disappointments, with no spring musical or fall play in 2020.

But a group of upperclassmen was determined to make it through this school year with at least one play performance. As it turns out, putting on a play performance during a pandemic wasn’t enough of a challenge for them; they decided to write and create an entirely new production.

An Adaptation of the 1915 "Alice in Wonderland"

Everything – from the script to the score, from the set design to the production – has been created and developed by Heritage high schoolers. 

At the beginning of the school year, a group of students worked alongside HCS theater director Spencer Elliott to develop and revise a series of proposals to put on a safe, live performance. After finally getting the green light, they reviewed several “Alice in Wonderland” public domain scripts, eventually landing on the Gerstenberg 1915 adaptation because of its focus on the big picture of Wonderland and its attention to other characters.

But the students soon realized they’d rather rewrite the script and play up themes that reflect the current disorientation they’ve been feeling this year.

What started with several rewritten lines has turned into a new script and new musical numbers.

“Almost nothing is left of the original,” said Spencer, who works with local theater groups and professional playwrights outside of school. “I’ve seen many plays written by a lot of professional authors, and I’m telling you, this play is good.”

“We wanted to create a plot line with the same classic charm, the same familiar characters, but with updated diction, a stronger story, and an original twist,” said senior Mia Freeman, who is leading the playwright student team. “You’ll recognize your favorite characters, some iconic lines, and even some familiar music as we tried to stay somewhat true to the classic tale. Still, we’ve definitely had some creative interpretation as to how the story as a whole is told."

A Musical Created by Students

The team divided the work, with some students drafting parts of a scene, some creating new scenes, and some editing. Mia initially spent a couple of hours a day writing, rewriting, and editing the script.

Another group of students is composing a new score, adapting music and lyrics to fit with the script and adhere to current singing protocols. Senior Savannah Atkins is heading up the music composition team. She and Mia collaborated to cast a vision for the play and select song themes and placements, then assigned each music team member the task of writing a song. Once complete, the team orchestrated parts, transposed the score to sheet music, and taught it to the actors.

Some pieces are complete originals, while others are combinations of new and old. The Queen of Hearts, for example, sings the original melody from “Playing with the Queen of Hearts,” but uses lyrics written by the students. There is also underscored music for dialogue-heavy scenes.

Aside from the script and score, other groups of students are leading the directing, production, set design, and costumes. A record number of eight students requested to be student directors this year.

Gratitude Within Uncharted Territory

Though the students dreamed of utilizing an entire pit orchestra, they adapted the score for a small ensemble consisting of strings, piano, guitar, and percussion.

The entire production team has taken these challenges and used their creativity and passion to find solutions where none seemed possible,” said Savannah. “I am very proud to have been a part of that.”

Spencer and the students are just grateful for the chance to create, collaborate, flex their talents, and discover new ones.

“We’re doing what we can to make this production the best we can, though production in the middle of a global pandemic is definitely uncharted territory for us,” said Mia. “But we’ve been incredibly blessed even to have this opportunity.”