Having fun with 'Alice'

TMHS stages its first production

Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010

A year of firsts at Thunder Mountain High School will now shine the Falcon spotlight onto the theatrical stage with the musical "Alice In Concert."

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"It's a little bit scary," Thunder Mountain High School junior Rachel Sielbach said. "Everyone is going to be looking back at this as the first one. We are setting the bar ... I hope we set a good one. It's kind of exciting too."

Based on Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," the musical version "Alice In Concert" featured Meryl Streep during its run on Broadway in New York.

Thunder Mountain's cast lists many lesser-known names, but all with just as much passion.

Sielbach plays the lead role. It is her first stage production since a fifth grade outing in "Tides & Tempest."

"Yeah, I'm Alice," Sielbach said. "Pretty much just trying to play it as normal as one would think a young lady in her circumstance would react. I want to show that through the play she kind of gets more mature. Because in the beginning she is like a little childish girl, and she kind of, not very much but a little bit, she gets more woman-like."

The audience should pay attention in act two, Sielbach said, when Alice kills the Jabberwocky. Alice cries because she is relieved her fear, represented by the creature, is gone but also realizes what she has done.

"I think that is where she steps it up a bit and becomes a little bit more mature," Sielbach said.

Thunder Mountain will put 29 actors and six musicians on stage. None are seniors, and a majority are freshmen and sophomores.

Sophomore Janessa Sanbei (Tweedledee) would have had to leave school in the Mendenhall Valley early to make it downtown for Juneau-Douglas High School's productions, so last year she did not participate.

Freshman Sarah Johnson (Dormouse) has experience from Juneau Lyric Opera's production Mikado, but said she is proud of the tradition being established at the new school.

Marisa Guizio had been in plays at Floyd Dryden Middle School and Glacier View Elementary.

"Now I play the Griffin, like, an old bird-lion married to a turtle. I never foresaw this," she said.

Some of the actors were freshmen at Juneau-Douglas High School, switched schools last year, and now get the chance for their first high school production.

Junior Abi Fox (Humpty Dumpty) has three years of experience on the JDHS forensics team, but couldn't fit in theater time when changing schools last year.

Classmate Sheryce Marshall (Dutchess) tried to work on JDHS productions "Jekyll & Hyde" and "Pegos Bill" last season while attending THMS and its then-limited art options.

"That was really hard," Marshall said. "It is so nice to have your own cast home, your own family. JD was such an established family and now we are starting to build ours, it is really great.

"We are with each other 24-7," Marshall continued, "we don't have personal bubbles anymore. You can say, 'you suck,' or 'you are doing really well,' or 'here let me help you with this,' and we love each other pretty much all the time."

Expectations are high but the feeling is good, easy and laid back, theatrical director Dawn Kolden said.

"I think we are happy," Kolden said. "I've always wanted to do Alice in Wonderland and even more so when I read the script, and then when I read this one, I really loved it."

The original script called for only 11 actors playing multiple parts and wearing street clothes.

Kolden expanded the number of roles to 29 and decided to use costumes collecting dust at JDHS.

"So you can kind of start simple," Kolden said. "For a simple budget at a new school ... that's what I was thinking."

Kolden decided she wanted the orchestra to be on stage and seen instead of down in the pit because they are students, too, and part of the ambiance.

"I feel like the kids are doing a great job," she said. "They all get along with each other. The parents have been bringing us dinner each night. I am touched. People are really putting their heart and soul into it. It seems like a community, if you will."

Orchestra director Brian Vankirk and music director Tyree Pini work with the cast, and students shuffle from band risers to stage to sound rooms and back again with junior pianist Kimberly Laboca in tow.

"I think it's pretty cool for us," Laboca said. "I can look back when I am older and say, 'I played the first production at TMHS.' It is so fun growing together and focusing on establishing team work and stuff, that's the hardest thing."

Auditorium manager Ulu Mills has her hands full with time restraints and a number of first-time crew, since four of the five stage crew are freshmen and have no traditional theatrical experience.

The production becomes as much a training stage for the rest of their careers as it is about preparing for this one show.

"These girls are really awesome, they are learning really quickly," Mills said. "It is going to be very creative, this show, the stuff will be abstract and utilizing the resources we have from previous shows. They seem to be taking to it very well. It is fun work. It is hard, it is dangerous, but it can also be a lot of fun."

Junior Russadell "Leo" Buzard is the light designer for the set. He recently was stage manager on the Mikado production in its TMHS stage debut.

"No pressure, it is pretty easy," Buzard said of his work. "The movement on stage in the story is what I am trying to outline with the lights, so lights are going to compliment the movements on stage in the story. The planning is the hardest part, once I have that down the rest is easy."

As the stage crew worked amidst lights lowered to the deck for filter changes, and wildly dressed characters danced about trying to find correct pitch and tone, the famous Chesire Cat smile let escape what seems to be tantalizing press material to draw theater attendees.

"The goofier it is," laughed out junior Laura May Fees, "The more interesting it is to watch!"

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