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Hooked Hearts

Alice, played by Jenny Kilde, is surrounded by a bevy of characters from her dream in MHS's "Hooked Hearts," which opens Nov. 9. Pictured left to right, kneeling and seated are Kayla Kelsey and Crystal Beals. In front are Emma McGovern, Jasmine Lee, Emma White, Jenny Kilde, Quincy Cook, Graeme Strong, Corinna Torres, Kennedy Hayden and Korbynn Schallenberger. Standing in the rear are Elliot Hoppa, Seanna Erickson and Rowan Freeman. Not pictured is Jade Cataract. The show is directed by Blaine Halverson, with Tiffany Schwichtenberg and Karsten Halverson assisting.

What if fairy tales were true stories, or at least were based on real people? What if some of the most beloved storybook characters of our childhood encountered each other?

Those are just two questions that inspired Menomonie High School drama students while preparing this year’s fall play. The end result is a original show inspired by beloved characters that’s sure to be a hit with audiences of all ages.

“Hooked Hearts: When ‘Lands’ Collide” opens Friday, Nov. 9 at MHS, 1715 5th St. W., Menomonie.

“Hooked Hearts” imagines what it would look like if J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Lewis Carroll’s Alice were actual historical figures, whose stories were not only passed down incorrectly, but were also left incomplete. The play redefines Pan’s relationship with Captain Hook. It reconsiders whether the Queen of Hearts’ demand for Alice’s head was really just a dream. It even imagines that somehow the doors to their respective “lands” opened, allowing them to meet and interact.

The show grew out of an observation by director Blaine Halverson.

“I’ve noticed over the years that the two act plays we tend to do each year are usually not geared toward kids or families. I started to think about how we could change that, while still making it a challenge for our cast,” he says.

As a result, Halverson decided last spring that the 2018 fall show would be created by the students, with his directorial staff facilitating. They would base the show on well-known, public domain stories with an eye toward creating a mashup of two to three different stories.

Rather than holding traditional tryouts, the first two weeks of school consisted of daily “tryout rehearsals”. Each day, new students would have the vision and process briefly explained to them. New and returning students would spend part of the time learning improvisational theater games, and the remainder working on guided brainstorming sessions to glean seeds for the play. After two weeks, students decided whether or not to commit to the project.

Next, the cast narrowed options for their source material. One day, they recognized the broad enthusiasm that existed for Peter and Alice and began brainstorming scenarios in which those characters might interact. They used group brainstorming, small group breakouts and improvisation to develop and test ideas and plot lines.

The end result is going to surprise audiences.

“It’s different than anything they’ve ever seen before,” said sophomore Jenny Kilde, who plays Alice and a Lost Boy.

“It broadens the imagination,” said Jasmine Lee, the friend who invited Jenny to come along to one of the first tryout rehearsals. Lee was in 2017’s “The Mouse That Roared,” while this is Kilde’s first MHS production.

In one scene that is especially fun for the cast, Alice and Peter are separately and simultaneously transported to “The Real World Orientation and Acclimation Center.” The center, serves as an intake for a variety of characters who have either arrived by wish, accidental whim or forced banishment. The scene combines 14 famous characters from nearly as many sources to dramatize a series of hilarious interactions.

Halverson is excited by what he’s seeing and is confident that kids, teens and adults of all ages will enjoy the experience. But what is also evident is the growth the cast has experienced in the process.

Korbynn Schallenberger, who plays Michael Darling, among others, admits to anxiety about being in front of an audience. She joined the production to stretch her comfort zone.

“It helped me open up to people by learning new social skills from improv,” Schallenberger said. While she is still naturally nervous about facing the audience, she now seems to relish and enjoy the moments for her characters that she, herself, has participated in creating.

“Hooked Hearts: When ‘Lands’ Collide” will open at Menomonie High School Auditorium Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students and can be purchased at the door.

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