Cullman County Schools breaks new ground with theater production

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What happens when you pass out the swords and turn your back!  Fairview Theatre Director Mark Dobbs with some of his “Sleeping Beauty” cast members.
What happens when you pass out the swords and turn your back! Fairview Theatre Director Mark Dobbs with some of his “Sleeping Beauty” cast members.

FAIRVIEW, Ala. – In April, more than five months of coordinated effort will culminate in a new era of theater for students of Cullman County Schools, when Fairview High School hosts a production of “Sleeping Beauty” featuring students who auditioned from across the entire county school system.

The Tribune visited Fairview English teacher and theater director Mark Dobbs to find out more, but he told us that we needed to start where the notion of a system-wide production began: with Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette.

At the central office, Barnette shared, “Not every one of our schools have a drama program, but that is something that is growing momentum throughout the country right now. And I want every student in Cullman County- this year it’s just high school students, but hopefully, next year it’s going to grow, and we can have two plays: one for elementary students and one for high school students.

“But this year, even if they do have a drama program, we had district-wide auditions where anybody in the high school throughout our district could try out for a part in this play. So we are going to be hosting this play. And the school board here has put up money to buy the scripts and all that stuff, the play rights.

“And so, the board has stepped up and they’re doing that because they believe in it. And I’ll tell you: I believe in if there’s kids out there that want to do something like this, we want to make it happen for them. I think that, for kids to be successful in life, they’re going to have to be involved in things like this; and so we just want to continue to grow it.

“And just like the release of the information that we did of the facility that we’re wanting to build, this could be a common place that all the kids can go and take drama classes and be involved in district-wide plays and so forth. Even though this is a small start, we’re getting a lot of schools to come in and watch this, and, hopefully, that’ll build momentum to get even more kids involved next year. So, we just hope it continues to grow from here.”

Barnette and the school board gave Dobbs a budget beyond his school’s regular allotment for its theater group and sent him around to the other high schools to pass the word and sign up over 80 students for initial auditions. He’s been at it for awhile: wrangling actors from multiple schools has taken a lot of after-school hours and weekends. Rehearsals began late last October.

Dobbs said, “This would not have been possible without Dr. Barnette having the idea that he wanted to offer an opportunity for all of Cullman County to be able to get into performing arts.  He didn’t want them to have go somewhere else to do it. He wanted it to be by Cullman County kids, for Cullman County kids.”

About “Sleeping Beauty”

At Fairview, as we looked over the set, Dobbs said, “We are doing a modernly written but not modern-set version of ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ I would say it’s similar to ‘Wicked’ in that you find out the backstory of the characters. It still has the curse put on Sleeping Beauty: she falls asleep and she has to be awoken by someone who loves her with a kiss. That part’s still there, but you find out all the characters’ backstory like you do in ‘Wicked.’ Very funny production, some pretty good special effects.

“I think the younger kids will enjoy it, and I think there’s enough story and enough comedy for the older kids to enjoy it, as well.  Kids can watch it as a cartoon, but adults will get some things. The physical comedy the kids will laugh at; the more sophisticated lines the older audiences will laugh at.  So there’s a little bit of funny for both.”

At this point in the process…

Dobbs said, “We’ve changed a lot since we first started. Every kid’s off script; we’re way ahead of where we usually are. Our actors have been off script for probably a month now. And now we’re fine-tuning, and changing blocking or changing lighting, or deciding we like something a better way.

“And the interesting development that always happens with all of our plays is there’s a point at which, when the kids stop thinking about what it is they’re supposed to say, and when they’re supposed to say it, and where they’re supposed to stand.  They start acting; that start becoming the characters. We’re in that stage, now.

“The kids are starting to think. They’re asking questions about, ‘Shouldn’t I say this this way instead of that way,’ and ‘wouldn’t this character be mad about that?’ They’re starting to explore who they are in their role, and so it’s getting better and better and better each time.”

The production will feature effects like thunder and lightning and pyrotechnics, and the action will include ever-popular sword fights.

Dobbs commended his crew, saying, “Of course, our kids–the actors–have worked especially hard for about six months to get ready for the performance. And, like I said, Mr. Miller, our ag teacher (who built many of the set items and props) has gone above and beyond what anyone could ask of anybody. An example: I asked him for two wooden cutout swords that I could paint and make look like a sword.  He takes some steel and cuts it out, and actually makes me two real (but dull) swords for the sword fighting. That’s the kind of person he is: he’s going to go above and beyond, and make it as good as it can be.”

Cast

Dobbs visited and invited students from all schools, but some did not send students to audition.  All schools that sent students are represented in the cast.

Branwen, the Bright Witch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Allison Frost, Fairview
 

Modron, the Dark Witch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cayla Allen, Fairview; Heather Twilley, Cold Springs
 

Gryff, half man/half dragon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Devan Humes, Fairview
 

King Peredur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Matthew Baughman, Fairview
 

Queen Guinevere . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lydia Baker, Vinemont; Taylor Simmons, Holly Pond  
 

The Bishop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cain Recher, Fairview
 

Princess Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty . . . . . Alexia Baughman, Fairview
 

Prince Owain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jesse Smith, Fairview
 

Tylwyth Teg 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Emma Butler, Fairview
 

Tylwyth Teg 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Keira Pitts, Fairview
 

Tylwyth Teg 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Angela Thornton, Fairview
 

The Spider Queen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Bianca Messina, Cold Springs
 

King’s Footman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Brier Grace, Fairview
 

The group will put on 20 shows, mostly for the other schools in the system.  Public performances will be at Fairview High School on:

  • Sunday, Apr. 14 at 2 p.m.
 
  • Friday, Apr. 19 at 6 p.m.
 
  • Saturday, Apr. 20 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.