HIBBING — More than one year after the Hibbing High School auditorium went dark, about two dozen student actors and stage hands are ready to offer “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a comedic play, for a local audience. Performances are scheduled to run from May 13-15 and will take place on the historic stage, in the renovated community space modeled after the Capitol Theatre in New York City.
“It’s important for the students who are shaking off the coils of being locked away from one another for so long,” said Megan Reynolds, the director of the production. “It’s taken some time for students to come out of their virtual cocoons. But as the country is opening up, I have seen students really start to get excited about getting together to put something out for the public again.”
Based on the best-selling novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the Tony-award winning play adapted to the stage by Rick Elice tells the origin story of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up a.k.a. Peter Pan. There are scenes of pirates and unlikely heroes on the sea, singing mermaids and a deserted island.
The Hibbing version of the play “is a little bit zany,” Reynolds said.
She explained, “The play uses the ensemble to create the atmosphere and environment of the play. There’s two sailing vessels on the ocean and one of the ships splits apart in a hurricane. The staging is athletic and physical. There’s singing and even a dance number. It’s self-referential. It gives a wink and a nod at people who know about theater.”
Dustin Davidson, who is on the Mesabi Musical Theatre Board of Directors, is pitching in to help with lights, sound and technical advising.
The planned performance comes after Gov. Tim Walz and state officials last week welcomed new federal COVID-19 guidelines amid a growing number of people who have received vaccinations. People who are vaccinated in Minnesota are being told they can go mask-free in small, outdoor gatherings, but they are encouraged to keep them on indoors.
In Hibbing, the two-act play runs for 2.5 hours including intermission. The 16 actors and 10 person technical crew will wear masks on stage. A maximum of 250 people are allowed into the theater per show. They are required to wear masks and sit near members of their household, distanced from other groups.
Area theater patrons say they are excited to see a new play after a year of COVID cancellations and the recent drama within the drama department.
In the summer of 2019, Paul Gregersen left his post as the HHS drama director. In his absence, area school administrators approached Chisholm High School Drama Coach Megan Zubich — a HHS graduate — to launch the first ever Chisholm-Hibbing musical production. The team managed to put on “Grease” amid differing public opinions among parents who either celebrated the collaboration or expressed territorial concerns over funding and roles.
Around that time, Reynolds, a resident of Hibbing who majored in theater at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. and studied at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre, a private school in Blue Lake, Calif., was hired later that year for the annual Winter One Act.
For Reynolds, her education “has deeply impacted” the way she approached coaching the students on-and off-stage.
“I want them to be able to stand on stage and allow themselves to be seen,” she said. “That’s challenging as a teenager, as a human being. But it’s a joyful experience once we’re able to do it.”
She prepared the students for a version of “Much Ado About Nothing” in the spring of 2020, but the arrival of COVID-19 on the Iron Range cancelled the production.
The department made a virtual comeback in January and performed “Mmmbeth,” a comedic riff off another Shakespeare play, for the annual competition. The actors recorded their scenes over Zoom.
Then, spring rolled around and the number of COVID-19 cases dropped in the Northland. “Things started opening up and we decided to put on the full production, especially for high school seniors who haven’t done a play at all in their final year,” Reynolds said.
Despite the interest, initial signups for auditions were sparse. So, the drama director reached out to the actors and stage hands who participated in plays beforehand.
“I said, ‘If you want this play to happen, you need to make it happen,” Reynolds recalled telling students. “I do think COVID has taken a significant toll on them. There has been a short period of readjusting to the type of comradery that happens when you work on a play together. But the kids have risen to the occasion. They rehearsed and will perform in masks. It’s positive for them to be together.”
The play, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 13 and Friday, May 14, and at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 15.
Tickets are now on sale.
Cost ranges from $5 for students and seniors and $7 for adults.
Theater goers can find links to purchase tickets on the HHS Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheHibbingHighSchoolDramaDepartment/.
For more information, call the high school activities office.