SHERIDAN — When school district administrators hired Emma Hall as director for the Sheridan High School fall play, she knew what performance to propose: a complex play with multiple leads, challenging characters and the potential for a large cast.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” debuts Nov. 29 and runs through Dec. 2. Based on a book by the same name, the performance is about two hours and is a prequel to “Peter Pan” with many of the same characters. Twenty-three students appear onstage — several of them in multiple roles — which is significantly more than fall plays in recent years.
The opening next month will mark Hall’s first time directing a play at SHS, where she graduated in 2012. However, it is far from her directorial debut.
Hall has been involved in theater since age 8, at both school and community performances. She took part in musicals and plays as a Sheridan student, then focused on directing. Hall co-directed a Tandem Productions play, then started her own production company in Sheridan that she directed and produced shows for over the course of three summers back from Brown University, where she worked as a stage manager for theater performances.
Through her own company in Sheridan, Hall worked with middle-school and high-school students. Nine of those students have parts in this year’s play. Many of them also encouraged friends to audition, so there is a large number of students from all four grade levels.
“I came in with the benefit of having directed a lot of these students before,” Hall said. “Almost every single student that I’ve directed in the past — that is still in high school now — came out for the show.”
Junior Amaya Cook, who plays Molly Aster, is one of the nine students who worked with Hall in the past and wanted to do it again.
“She just has lots of fun ideas and is really fun to work with,” Cook said of Hall.
Rehearsals began in mid-September and the cast and crew have a 10-week practice timeline. With timing sorted out, students will hone their lines and performances over the next month.
The show is larger than a typical fall play at the school, but Hall has directed productions with three times as many people. She said about one-third of the actors have plenty of theater experience, one-third have some background and one-third don’t have any, so it has been interesting to figure out the best way for everyone to learn and work together.
Hall emphasizes community-building, so the first 30 minutes of every rehearsal focus on verbal games and getting to know each other better.
“I told them that it would be my worst nightmare if by the end of the show everyone didn’t know everyone else’s name and something about each other,” Hall said.
Sophomore Erin Hanson, who portrays Peter Pan, has enjoyed the team-building exercises.
“It’s kind of a little family,” Hanson said.
Hanson had her first acting experience in the Sheridan Shakespeare Company’s “The Tempest” this past summer and picked it up from there.
“I’m pretending to be someone else so I don’t get as anxious,” Hanson said. “I really like that aspect of it.”
Hall said she was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of students who auditioned. With many new performers, the director must toe the line between fun and focus.
“I think it’s important that kids feel like if they mess up, it’s OK,” Hall said. “It’s about creating a balance for that forgiveness and empathy when people make missteps but also having a high enough standard that everyone wants to raise themselves to that standard or beyond.”
Senior Logen Livingston, who has the role of Black Stache, one of the villains, tried out when she heard Hall was directing.
“[Hall] is very meticulous and she’s very structured,” Livingston said. “She’s open to new ideas, which is very nice in a director. She’s open to listening to people’s opinions. We’re really fortunate to have her.”
With a new director and more expansive cast in place, the group will put its best foot forward beginning next month.