Heartwood to present 'Beowulf'

Posted Wednesday, October 19, 2011 in Culture

Heartwood to present 'Beowulf'

Lincoln Academy students, from left, Devin Domeyer, Ezra Hickey and Nate Friant paint runes onto the set for Heartwood’s upcoming original youth production of "Beowulf."

NEWCASTLE — From the ancient halls of Heorot (think Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”) to the stage of Heartwood come the tales of mighty warriors and kings, heroic victories and sudden losses, loyalties and cowardice, monsters and men, all woven tightly together with the poetic skills of anonymous writers more than a thousand years ago.

Bringing the epic poem "Beowulf" to the stage is not an average youth production. In fact, it’s much more than a production; it is a remarkable education for the 40-plus student actors, technicians, and musicians currently enmeshed in Heartwood’s ninth annual fall student theater.

Under the teaching and direction of Griff Braley, students have already invested six weeks in this process, with the Nov. 4 opening yet weeks away. With a love for the great classics in literature, Braley and the cast first read aloud the entire 3,000-line text — one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature. “Always, we begin with the words,” says Braley. Following an initial Old English coaching session by Heartwood actor/teacher Steve Shema, two student captains continue working with the cast on pronunciation skills peculiar to this difficult language. 

The students now recognize literary devices: alliteration, meter, and the lyrical flow of the language in which they are working. This informs all of the remaining technical elements.

Ned Steinberger, famous for his innovative stringed instruments, and Corey Redonnet, longtime Blue Man Group musician returned home, are working with several student musicians to integrate some surprising, unique instruments and original music woven among the threads of language and action.

Puppets and masks (some of rather enormous size) are ongoing projects divided among cast and crew. Renowned mask maker and performer Beverly Mann of Belfast will be working with the cast on the integration of masks and body.

Costuming is nearly epic itself, beginning with students designing and sewing their own tunics, made from 60 yards of monk cloth. This show demands not only period clothing but also helmets, weapons and armor. Alex Braley is leading this detail, after many sketches and cast research on warrior attire of the Danes and Geats.

Smoke, lights and special effects will augment the multi-level pipe-and-platform set. Student technicians are hard at work on these endless details under the direction of Heartwood’s technical director Letitia Munson.

Braley first created a staged version of "Beowulf" 11 years ago, while directing theater at Wiscasset High School, taking it to the New England Drama Festival. Waiting for just the right opportunity to have another run at it, he felt the time was ripe this fall — and with more than 40 students on board, it appears to be so. 

Sponsored by Damariscotta Hardware and Chesterfield Associates, a two-weekend run opens in the Parker Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle on Friday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Ensuing performances are Nov. 5, Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 at 7:30; Sunday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m.; and a special “Pay As You Can” performance on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m., during which Heartwood will be filming the play. Tickets are $8 students  and $15 adults. Reservations are strongly recommended. For more information, email boxoffice@heartwoodtheater.org or phone 563-1373.

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