Theater is by definition collaborative. Each player, both on and off stage, informs the integrity and essence of the production. And quality ingredients deliver the best results.
Since Peddie operates according to the same principles, theater director Elizabeth Sherman reached out to fellow faculty — experts in a wide range of fields — to consult on recent productions.
The idea was set in motion in December 2018, just before the winter musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Peddie’s Jewish Heritage Club, advised by Associate Director of Admission Hannah McCollum and Science Department Chair Shani Peretz, Ph.D., invited the cast to join them at a Chanukah party at the home of Arts Department Chair Alan Michaels.
“Hannah was super enthused about ‘Fiddler,’” remembered Sherman. Sherman’s first production during the 2019–2020 school year was “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s ensemble play in which nine girls portray teenage soccer players. Sherman decided to contact Matt Roach, English department chair and girls’ varsity soccer head coach, for tips and nuance on staging a soccer play convincingly.
“Matt was very responsive — a great consultant, especially about what size ball we should use. He was very helpful, very supportive of the production,” said Sherman.
Because “The Wolves” opens with the characters in a circle, warming up for a game, Roach invited the cast to a soccer practice, where they observed how the athletes typically stretch before playing.
“We pulled some things from them to use in our warm-up scene,” said Sherman. “(Roach) also had some of the English classes read the play, and they all attended the performance. For a department chair to institute something like that — I thought that was incredible.”
“Liz and I had some great conversations about soccer culture, team dynamics and the best ways to show soccer on stage during ‘The Wolves,’” said Roach. “The play was a window into powerful and complex team dynamics. It shows the strength and camaraderie of a team, but also seeks to show how competitive and fraught social dynamics can sometimes be. In the end, though, the show is beautifully reaffirming of life, team and the experience of youthful joy and athleticism.”
“1776,” Peter Stone’s musical reenactment of the First Continental Congress as they created the Declaration of Independence, went up in February. Sherman again embraced cross-departmental collaboration, seeking the expertise of History Department Chair Alison Hogarth and history teacher Erik Treese ’91.
“Alison and Erik talked with the cast; they came in and did an hour-long lecture,” said Sherman. “It was wonderful to have their voices as really revered history teachers and to engage the students. And it was quite influential for me to hear them. I’d think ‘Oh, I’m on the right track.’”
Stuart Baker ’21 played John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania and one of the principals in the play. He especially valued Treese’s contributions in helping to shape his character with historical accuracy.
“Mr. Treese shared a letter by Adams that was leaked to the press in 1775,” Baker said. In it, the cantankerous Adams insulted Dickinson as a “piddling genius,” a description that surely infuriated Dickinson, an honorable man.
“Linking the source of my character’s conflict with Adams beyond just our ideological disagreements inspired me to embrace a vigorous portrayal of the Dickinson-Adams feud for the show. I never would have learned this tidbit without Mr. Treese’s help.”
“It was fun to watch and be part of some of the early planning sessions of ‘1776,’” said Treese. “I was appreciative of Liz’s offer to talk to the students about John Adams and the Revolutionary Period. I was so impressed by the hard work the students put into trying to understand their characters.”
"I was so impressed by the hard work the students put into trying to understand their characters.”
Hogarth found the experience fulfilling as well. “Talking to the cast about the historical context of the Revolutionary Period was fantastic, and also getting them to think about the historical context of the time period when the musical was written and how those themes could be found in ‘1776.’”
Student dramaturg Neha Sathishkumar ’21 benefited from Hogarth’s and Treese’s teaching expertise as well; they both showed her solid ways to present material to the cast.
“I had no idea where to start as a dramaturg,” Sathishkumar said. “So before my first presentation to the cast, I met with Mr. Treese to outline what the beginnings and ends of my presentation would be. And at one point, I was having trouble explaining something to a cast member. I ran into Ms. Hogarth, and we talked about teaching. It was an enriching experience, and both of them taught me more about how to be a better teacher. I’m very grateful for their help during the process.”