Presenting…“The Democratic Grim Society of Hauntedness”

By Hannah Cordes, Education Manager at Portland Stage

img_0751A few weeks ago, we started our first after school class of the season: All Hallows’ Eve Teen Conservatory. So far, it is has been a wild ride of spooky surprises, curious discoveries, and hilarious anecdotes. Our students are delightfully outspoken, endlessly creative, and admirably dedicated. What I enjoy most about working with these young people, however, is how much they make me laugh. Their quirky uniqueness never fails to create an eventful class each week. For example, when we brainstormed our theater company name, some of the suggestions they came up with included: “The Tell-Tale Kidneys”, “Trainwreck”, “The HallowTWEEN Company”, “The Haunted Blueness of Blue-ing Way”, “The Ghosts of the Purple Floor” (our Theater for Kids space has a bright purple floor), and, the name they ended up selecting, “The Democratic Grim Society of Hauntedness”. Clearly, these are no run-of-the-mill kids.

All Hallows’ Eve Teen Conservatory is a process-based class culminating in a final performance (which is coming up soon! October 29th at 2:00PM, open to the public!). On the first day of class, Julia (one of our wonderful Education Interns this season) and I asked the students what scared them. Some of their answers were what I had expected: spiders, witches, snakes, clowns, dolls, heights, etc. Others surprised me with their depth: darkness/the void/nothingness or losing someone you love. And, of course, some of their answers delighted me: awkward silences, whales, running (not walking) Zombies (which they deemed “The Jogging Dead”), and mind-blowing existential questions. We also asked them what their favorite scary stories were. They came up with a variety of stories from a wide-range of time periods, including the legend of Bloody Mary, Edgar Allen Poe poems/stories, and episodes of Doctor Who and Supernatural.

So we got to work exploring the texts from their favorite scary things and spooky stories, and again they surprised me with their cleverness and ingenuity. Their interpretation of Macbeth’s “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” begins with each of them creeping on stage one at a time whispering “Double, Double” and ends with “something wicked this way comes” as Ruby pops out of the curtain with a mass of purple hair in front of her face, causing all of the other actors to fall to the ground. One group’s performance of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells opens with Jack hiding under a sheet and throwing sponges at his scene partners as the invisible man himself. Another group made what they call their “speaking couch” out of blocks and cushions in order to tell the story of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

As our performance date came closer, I wanted to give them a script that summed up all of their inventive ideas and concepts. So I took what they had told us about what scares them and what stories they were excited about and created a final piece of text for them to explore. Now Julia and I get the opportunity to see what these incredible teens come up with for this script. It’s going to get spooky in Theater for Kids this week!

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