NORTH STONINGTON — While some students in the Wheeler High School gymatorium wore sneakers and shorts Monday afternoon and practiced basketball, others stood on a stage above them, wearing Victorian-age costumes and practicing their lines. 

The students on the stage — looking as if they'd just stepped out of 19th century England — were at the dress rehearsal for Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which opens Friday night at the school.

"We share the space," said Director Marybeth Tavares, an English teacher, as she stood on the stage looking towards the ballplayers. "And we make it work."

As with most endeavors at the school, added Tavares, "we all work together."

For instance, she added, Dave Bradannini and his students in the technology education department constructed the set, while Sue Starr and her students in the art department designed and painted it.

"We all pitch in and make it work ... people step up to help," Tavares added. "The kids are committed and so are we."

Behind Tavares, in a corner of the stage, Molly Butremovich and Olivia Elliot, both juniors, and Skyler Morgan, a freshman, stood huddled over senior Malcolm Thompson, applying ghostly-looking makeup to his face. Thompson, wearing a long black mourning coat, will play the role of Jacob Marley in the play. His brother, TJ, a junior, will play the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

"He's kind of the reason I'm doing it," said TJ, as he wrestled with the fastener on the vintage black velvet vest he was wearing.

"Malcolm played the poulterer in our first production of 'A Christmas Carol' five years ago," said Tavares. Now, he's back as Marley, and his brother is Scrooge.

Senior Savannah Johnson, who plays The Spirit of Christmas Past, said she was enjoying her role, one in which she takes Scrooge on a journey back to his childhood, and to a memory with Belle, the young woman who was once his fiancee.

"It's a fun role, especially the dance scene," she said.

But Johnson said her favorite part is a sadder one, where Belle breaks up with young Ebeneezer.

"It's an emotional scene," she said. "And TJ plays his part well."

On another part of the stage, 14-year-old Nora Broderick, a freshman, was wearing her Mrs. Cratchit costume while Cora Post, 15, a sophomore, stood nearby, dressed as Janet Hallowell.

Nearby, 16-year-old Juliana Martens, one of the two stage managers, helped junior Amarie Bransford, 16, who plays the role of Mrs. Fezziwig, fix her hair.

"This is my first time dancing on stage," said Bransford with a smile.

"It's a great cast," said Tavares, a former opera singer. "They've been working very hard."

Actually, she added, "I've been working on the play since last year." 

"As soon as school was over last spring, I began preparing," she said. "It's great to get back [in the fall] and be ready to go."

Theater is important for students, Tavares said. "It builds confidence and it opens doors."

"We're a small school but we're big on talent," she added.

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