Students taking Aesop overseas

July 31, 2008|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Special To The Sun

Long after the curtain has closed on most high school theater productions, 35 students and recent graduates at Glenelg Country School are in their eighth month of rehearsing lines, learning songs and working out choreography for the musical Aesop's Foibles.

They say the extended effort will be worthwhile when they perform the show - written by two Glenelg Country School teachers - Aug. 16 through 19 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

"From the get-go, we were all extremely excited," said Collin Lyons, 18, of Glenelg, who plays Aesop. "[Young people] never get the opportunity to experience being in a first-time, world premiere show."

To get ready for the festival, the group will offer three evening performances of the show and two matinees at Glenelg Country School today through Sunday.

Carole Lehan, Glenelg Country's performing arts chairwoman, wrote the book for Aesop's Foibles while the school's primary school music teacher, Tom French, wrote the music and lyrics. The show follows Aesop as he seeks his freedom from slavery by writing his now-famous stories with the help of a novice muse. When a greedy fox steals the stories and rewrites them, humorous chaos - with singing animal characters - ensues.

"It is broad comedy," French said, "but it has also got a really nice message, so the audience walks away from it feeling fulfilled."

Lehan and French wrote shows together in the early 1990s for Toby's Dinner Theatre and other venues. French went on tour with a show in 1995, and when he returned to the area five years later, Lehan encouraged him to take a position at Glenelg Country School so they could resume their creative partnership.

Eight years later, they did.

French had started writing songs for a show using Aesop's fables 15 years ago, and he said the school's 2007 production of Just So, based on Rudyard Kipling's animal tales, got him and Lehan talking about the project again.

They decided to make Aesop the school's spring musical. A month later, they found that their school had been selected to perform at the American High School Theatre Festival. That is one part of the 24-day, 2,088-show Fringe Festival.

Lehan said they decided the original show would be perfect for Scotland. "The idea was, as long as we have a world stage, we'll make it worth remembering," she said.

Casting began while the writing process was going on, so Lehan said she and French had the opportunity to tailor roles to the actors.

French said he was able to be creative with the part of the muse after Maeve Ricaurte, now a senior, showed unexpected jazz-singing skills. The minor role of the jackdaw (a kind of crow) was expanded into a significant character after Erica Murphy, now a junior, impressed everyone with her humorous audition.

The creative process meant everyone was dealing with script changes up to performances in February and March.

Then another series of changes were needed to prepare for the festival, Lehan said. The show needed to be cut down from more than 90 minutes to about 75 minutes, so it could be set up, performed and cleared away by the ensemble within a strict two-hour time limit.

"Everything is constantly changing, so you have got to keep on your toes," said Chris Carey, 18, of Clarksville. "The benefit is [that] you get to really create your character. It makes me think, 'Wow, I am making this happen.' "

Lehan said the students have remained motivated throughout rehearsals. "They were totally juiced by the idea of being part of the creative process in a new way," she said.

In addition to working on his character's personality, Raja Jani said, he watched nature shows to develop the body movements for his character, the lion. Other cast members used Internet clips and photographs.

"The animals are in the way you control your body," said Jani, 18, of Columbia. "The human comes in with the character you give that animal."

As the production progressed, students said, they were pleased to see their ideas reflected in the later versions of the script. They also said they were able during rehearsals to discuss the pros and cons of making specific cuts.

The students' two-week trip begins Aug. 9. It will include several days in London and some sightseeing in Scotland in addition to four festival performances. The cast will also perform scenes from their show at various locations during the festival to try and attract audience members.

Lehan said she wants the trip to expose the students to a much broader artistic community.

"It is the idea that in a small school it is easy to be a big fish in a small pond," she said. "Now, they will share the same stage as the global community."

Performances of "Aesop's Foibles" will be held in Mulitz Theater at Glenelg Country School, 12793 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City. Shows are at 7 p.m. today, tomorrow and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All tickets are $10.

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