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All boarding, grades 9-12 in Alexandria, Virginia

“Theater in Residence” Takes Students Inside Professional Stage Production

Thanks to an unusual partnership between Episcopal and a hot new Washington-area theater company, students are getting nightly behind-the-scenes looks at the production of a professional play.
Monumental Theatre, which won a Helen Hayes Award last year as Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, is using the Breeden Black Box Theater and other space in the Ainslie Art Center to produce and rehearse “Daddy Long Legs,” which will run in Breeden from March 7-30.
Episcopal English classes are attending rehearsals and talking with actors and understudies as well as the stage manager and music director. “Daddy Long Legs,” a two-person musical, is based on a 1912 novel about the romance that develops between a young orphan woman and the philanthropist paying for her college education. Most recently, students sat in on the sitzprobe, the first rehearsal in which musicians join with the actors.  
The experience is giving many students their first look at the nitty-gritty of putting on professional theater. Olivia Shackelford ’21 said she was surprised to see that scenes were rehearsed repeatedly, each time with small tweaks to refine the actors’ delivery or their movements on stage. “Clearly there’s a lot that goes into a theater production -- a lot more than you would think about,” she said.

For some students, the “Daddy Long Legs” rehearsals illustrated how they could improve their performance of Shakespeare plays for Shakepearience, the daylong immersion into the Bard’s work that debuted this fall. “I was satisfied with what we were doing on stage and our performance” of “Macbeth” in the fall, said Helen Chen ’21. “But now, I think: We need to do so much more.”

Michael Windsor, the arts assistant at Episcopal, is a co-founder of Monumental. He produces all its plays and directs select mainstage shows, including “Daddy Long Legs.” This year, Michael has been nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Direction in a Musical, one of nine nominations earned by Monumental.

Michael established the nonprofit group as a “theater in residence” at Episcopal in 2016 but arranged for students’ to get this intimate look at its work for the first time this year. “Most of them don’t have very much experience putting on plays,” he said. “And that was the idea -- to get them some exposure.”

Students are eager to see the finished product when Monumental puts on a performance for the entire school. “When I see a theater production, I’m like a spectator,” Helen said. “But after seeing how it’s produced, I feel more related to the work.”

Performances of “Daddy Long Legs” are open to the public. For ticket information, visit the Monumental Theatre Company website.

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