WHEATLAND – The smells of holding a play in a quarter horse arena only adds an interesting realism to an already epic and bold performance that will go forth May 5, 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. nightly.
Since the remodel of the Wheatland High School auditorium for the past school year, things like band concerts, performances and plays have had to be creative as to the venue that would house their creative creations.
Perhaps the most bold and creative move to date has been not only bringing the challenging musical “Anastasia” to the high school stage, but also choosing an indoor quarter horse arena as the venue for the performances.
Opening night will be Thursday, May 5, at the Rafter MB Quarter Horses Arena And Event Center located at 210 Sybille Creek Road in Wheatland which is owned and operated by Myrle and Birgit Ingle.
Robin Williams said that a veteran actor can act no matter what the environment and make the audience believe you are someplace else. For the Wheatland Thespian Troupe 605, they are going to attempt to make the audience feel as if they are in the turn of the century Russia.
“That’s really why we love the arena,” said choreographer and costume designer Ton Winter. “It’s so big and expansive. The acoustics are actually wonderful out there and it gives this feeling of grandness because it’s so large. That’s what we’re wanting to get because it’s the grandness of Russia and Paris and all these things thrown in.”
Merlin Hitt, who is responsible for set design has created an arena within the arena with bleacher seating in an environment where the audience feels as if they may actually be sitting in an outdoor square in Petrograd. And with the birds that actually live in the arena, it will also lend an air of realism of being in the park with birds swooping and chirping. The smell of the tack and the horses will only lend another hint of realism as the scents will speak to a time before automated travel.
“It has been a little difficult to rehearse out there,” Winter said. “It’s just been too cold and it’s too dark and not enough light out there right now.”
The cast has been working for six weeks on rehearsals, most of which are taking place downtown Wheatland at the Dance Wyoming studio.
“What’s fun is that for the Russian bits, we are having the kids down in the dirt, digging in the dirt as in Russia, and then when the scene changes to Paris, they are all up in the balcony,” Winter said. “What we are concerned about is a lot of our actors have allergies to horses and allergens being outside. We’ve been actually telling them to find local honey and start eating that every day.”
For a show like Anastasia, most high schools won’t attempt it simply because the stage area can’t do it justice.
“For a play of this magnitude it needs to feel big,” Winter said. “There’s not a lot of indoor places in Wheatland that have that feeling. We met with Birgit and she showed us the auditorium and she was willing to be a part of our crazy scheme and she’s super excited and she just said, ‘anything for the kids.’”
The main characters in the play are experienced, veteran high school actors, Grace Hanni who plays Anya, Kit Winter who plays Dimitry and Jeffery Cuevas from Douglas High School who plays Vlad.
Cuevas is new to the Wheatland stage, but not to acting and has performed in plays Cinderella where he played the prince, Sound of Music where he played Max Detweiler among many other plays.
“I didn’t expect to get a big part when I came here,” Cuevas said. “I just wanted to participate in another show and I thought it would be pretty fun. I think the biggest challenge is never having acted with any of the kids here. It’s getting to know them and getting the cues correct and learning their timing.”
Cuevas is active in student council, the National Honor Society and is on the varsity swim team.
Hanni who is fresh off the Wheatland High School drama club’s play “Working,” has wowed crowds with not only her acting abilities, but she has also been gifted with an incredible singing voice.
When asked how it felt to have the auditorium ripped up for her senior year, Hanni said “It’s terrible. But this is a great place to end my high school career. With this play. At that venue. One of the hardest scenes I’ve done is in this play where I have to scream really loud onstage.
Kit Winter who stole the show in last fall’s performance of “Charley’s Aunt” as he played a college student who was playing a spinster aunt in an English play.
“This will be more difficult,” he said. “I am more used to comedy, but I am excited for this challenge and I am really looking forward to this. Between now and opening night I have to figure out a whole new genre of acting that is a bit out of my comfort zone.”
The play, directed by Kalyn Krotz was inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures by special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical. It was adapted from the play by Marcelle Maurette as adapted by Guy Bolton.
The book, Anastasia was written by Terrence McNally, music was written by Stephan Flaherty and the lyrics were written by Lynn Ahrens.
The troupe will be selling tickets at door and advance online, link is: gofan.co/app/school/WY16407. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students
On Friday night Birgit is offering a steak dinner before the show for $20. Those have to be paid and reserved online in advance. Only 50 available so they will go quick.