When Ms. Kailie Larkin, Grades 5 – 8 Theatre Arts teacher, welcomed one of her first clown and physical theatre teachers to St. Anne's-School in February, neither she nor Peter Gould knew that their schedule would be cut a little short by a snowstorm. With the support of the Arts Boosters, Gould was to have worked and performed with Grades K – 8 students for three days, but the second turned out to be a snow day. As Larkin and Gould could not work with students that day, they decided to use the time to collaborate on a script for a future project.
"I have found it very difficult to find a fun and engaging script that is appropriate for the middle school age level, and also has a large number of parts," said Lark. "Often the scripts for this age group have too small a cast or are too simple and too young. As we sat by the fire Peter shared a scene he had devised long ago and had always wanted to expand. Two children at a county fair travel back in time to the Wild West and they end up around a campfire. All of them have a dream, including the campfire, who has a nightmare that someone is coming with a bucket of water to put him out! From this idea we began to brainstorm. Why would the kids travel back in time? What was the obstacle they had to overcome to return home? Who would be the villains? And how could we craft a script that could hold parts for thirty to forty students?"
The duo worked all day crafting scenes and dialogue before Larkin showed Gould another script she had chosen for the Grade 6 play, set to begin production in just two weeks. However, both realized that the selected play was too dark and cynical, and that they would have to work quickly to finish their new project in order to stage it this school year.
"In theatre classes we work on finding a character voice and speaking from their perspective, so I tried to craft distinct character voices that would fun for an actor to engage with," said Larkin. "I knew that we needed some smaller character-driven scenes and larger full group sequences. I also love moments that require creative problem-solving and allow for actors to collaborate with the director on possible approaches... I was so impressed with how the students took ownership of the show, and were problem-solving and making creative suggestions up though opening night!"
For Gould, the Grade 6 production of The Condor Tree of Carrion County was twenty years in the making.
"I've been working as a teacher, friend, and colleague of Kailie Larkin for seventeen years," he said. "It's always fun to sit down with her and visualize, mutually, a character, a scene, a Shakespeare play... In this case I had a story I did twenty years ago. I told what I could remember to her, and we worked on it for weeks, together, while it grew and grew into what you all saw... Our aim with the Condor play was to put out a theater work that could challenge the actors to grow in their bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. So, what we ended up with, I think, was a combination of history and ecology, fun word play with a chance for over-the-top physicality, and countless opportunities for teamwork."
Larkin believes the production grew from St. Anne's-Belfield School providing an environment that cultivates ensemble and process-based Theatre Arts programs.
"This play was a direct product of that environment and I think it showcases how vibrant the student experience can be when they have such a large part in the process of crafting a show," she said. "I think youth theatre needs to have this level of creative energy and room for improvisation and collaboration. When theatre has space to get messy and time for the ensemble to work through it and problem-solve together, that is when you see the students really take pride in crafting an original piece of work."
Photos of The Condor Tree of Carrion County are available on the School's SmugMug account.