HOPE VALLEY — On April 6, the curtain will rise on an original play written by Chariho High School students and performed by students at Hope Valley Elementary School.
Entitled “Pandora’s Box: A Cautionary Tale,” the production promises to deliver a new twist on the story in Greek mythology in which Pandora, who is given a box and told never to open it, ignores the warning and releases the evil spirits lurking within. Chariho senior Anna Tarasuk wrote the play and Stewart Mead, also a senior, composed the music.
Chelsea Cook of the Rhode Island Youth Theatre is directing the production, which will be performed at the Chariho Middle School auditorium.
“I’m basically running the program at the elementary school, but I’m also working with Stewart and Anna, brainstorming and hooking Stewart up with one of my friends who’s a professional in New York. He writes for 'Showtime,'” she said.
Tarasuk’s “Pandora” will not be quite as dark as the original.
“This boy opens a book and he has to do a book report, and basically he gets sucked into the story of Pandora,” Cook said. “His dad told him, ‘Don’t go to the top shelf of the bookshelf,’ and he ends up going to get the book and then he gets sucked into the story. So he’s disobeying his father like Pandora is disobeying Zeus.”
The play also touches on classic allegories about emotions such as greed, jealousy and vanity.
“It’s talking about what young people go through and just kind of relating it back to silly human nature,” Cook said.
Hope Valley Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli explained that his school's special focus is visual and performing arts. (Each of the four elementary schools in the Chariho district is developing a specialty focus as “a magnet school,” part of an effort to attract and retain students.)
“This has been an integration of art, music, drama, and literacy,” he said of the play. “I am so happy to be able to bring this experience to students of Hope Valley School at an early age, because this opportunity can help lead students down the arts pathway for those that never thought they had it in them, as they consider their interests moving forward in Chariho and in life.”
Mead said it was the arts component at the elementary school that had made it a good fit for an original stage production.
“They’re a magnet school for performing arts,” he said. “They have a focus on chorus and drama and art, so this is the type of thing their school is all about, so that’s why we decided to do it here.”
Rehearsals have been taking place several days a week over a five-week period and many changes have been made along the way.
“It’s an original piece, so basically we’re just developing it as we go along,” Cook said. “So a lot of things have changed from when I first met Stewart and Anna and we talked about plot and talked about the idea of Pandora’s Box and adapting it and having different versions of the script.”
The 29 cast members are very young — in Grades 2 to 4 — so it’s fortunate that the show is only 35 minutes long.
“It’s a little challenging for the kids because they’re so young,” Cook said. “The lines have gotten a little more simple just so they can remember them easier. It’s been a process and it’s been really cool working with them.”
Charlotte Giusti, who is in fourth grade, plays Pandora. She admitted that between remembering her lines and all the singing, she would probably have some jitters.
“I will definitely be nervous because I have to remember all my lines, my musical notes, and cues to start singing,” she said. “There are also certain positions I must be in for different scenes. Although I am nervous, I think we are going to put on a really fantastic play and everyone will enjoy watching it.”
Second-grader Noah Vandeveer plays King Midas.
“I enjoy being the character King Midas. I also like the games we play because they teach you how to act like performing a dramatic death, going in slow motion, and filling the space on the stage,” he said.
Nylah Sheldon, a third-grader who plays Marigold, said she had definitely been bitten by the acting bug.
"It helps build up my self-confidence,” she said. “I would love to do it again if it was offered next year. It was really fun and I enjoyed it so much. I want to be an actor when I grow up.”
Gencarelli said he hoped the school would present a musical theater production every year.
“My plan is to continue working with the Rhode Island Youth Theatre for years to come,” he said. “We have made some great connections and have some innovative ideas as we move forward. I encourage all those interested to come watch our first - ever musical performance.”
The show will be presented on one night only: April 6 at 7 p.m. in the middle school auditorium. Admission is free.