By Karen Huber and Tyler Shoberg
The West Fargo High School drama department was well on its way preparing for this year's program, Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella," when the unthinkable happened.
Eleni Wilson, a 17-year-old senior, died Oct. 26 after experiencing a brain aneurism during a rehearsal for the play.
The tragedy has left its mark on countless people, from Eleni's family and friends, to her fellow classmates and cast members.
She also was an integral part of "Cinderella." But in true form, the cast members and staff have decided that the show must go on in honor of their fallen friend.
"It goes without saying that this production has been devastated by the passing of our cast mate, Eleni Wilson," West Fargo High School theater director Adam Pankow said. "Our students made the decision to carry on with the show as a tribute to our friend, and because this is something she would have wanted to see continue forward.
"Eleni is in the forefront of our thoughts as we continue to heal in part through this artistic process. The department deeply thanks the community for the outpouring of support they've shown our theatre family following this tragedy."
The Pioneer also asked Pankow a few questions about "Cinderella," which will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for "Cinderella" are now on sale. They are $8 for adults and $5 for students, and can be reserved through the box office by calling 356-2050 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or online at www.westfargotheatre.com.
Question: How has this production been evolving compared to others. Has it been easier or more difficult to stage than others?
Answer: Every production has its own, unique set of challenges, and this production is no different. One of the most difficult things to wrap our head around is the magic and visual trickery that the script calls for. How do you make a cage for four mice turn into four horses before the audiences' eyes? How does Cinderella's dress magically transform from rags to a beautiful ball gown? We spent a lot of time trying to figure out creative solutions for all of those elements. It wasn't easy.
Q: How will it compare or differ to the production 20 years ago? Your release indicates that it is an adjusted version with some new twists.
A: "Cinderella" was the last musical production staged at the old middle school before the current high school theatre space was finally built. Certainly the facility and the equipment we have available will help to make our version distinct. We're also staging a newer adaptation of the show that incorporates additional songs, characters and dialogue. This stage adaptation is based on the best elements of the 1957, 1965 and 1997 television versions which starred Julie Andrews, Leslie Ann Warren and Brandy, respectively. The previous stage version of the show (which WFHS would have done in 1992) had been performed countless times all over the world; this new edition takes all those familiarities and just freshens up the theatricality a bit. WFHS is actually the first group in the region to produce this adaptation which is dubbed by the licensing company, "the enchanted edition."
Q: What has been cast reaction to this production, and were they the decision makers on the performance choice?
A: Our casts and crews have some pull in the types of shows or the titles of shows we choose to perform; however, I'm sure this show wasn't on the top of any student's list - which is not saying anything about the quality of the show or the enthusiasm of the artists involved. I personally chose this show as a challenge to the students to embrace one of the gems of the golden age of musical theatre. Rodgers & Hammerstein seem very old fashioned to a group of students who have gotten accustomed to the more contemporary works WFHS Theatre has performed in recent years like "Cats" and "Hairspray." The shows being written today all owe their existence to productions by their predecessors like Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe and Comden & Green so it's important that students understand the lineage of theatre - "Cinderella" is the perfect production to accomplish the educational goal. Additionally, "Cinderella" also serves as a complement to our other large, musical offering this season, Les Miserables, which will perform this February.
Q: Are you enjoying your involvement and is the cast and crew having fun?
A: We are having a lot of fun bringing to life these very familiar characters and situations. There are challenges to be found in almost every aspect of the show, but we're enjoying the process and working towards perfection.
Q: What brings you the most satisfaction, or gratification in the whole process?
From a director's perspective, seeing the personal and artistic growth of the students is always the most gratifying. Audiences always seem very delighted after WFHS shows, but if they had the added perspective on how we got from Point A to Point B, I know they would be even more amazed at what these students are able to accomplish.
Q: Does anyone or anything stand out in this particular production that needs special noting?
A: The collaboration between the adults working on this production has been unique to WFHS Theatre. We've always had a handful of adults who work diligently to make these shows happen each year for the students. For "Cinderella," we have added a few more production staff members to the team, and that has made this process take another step forward in making our shows even more educationally and student-centered. Not only are we involving the typical director (myself), music directors (Karen Morrison and Sue Jordahl) and choreographer (Carrie Hubbard) that are required of a musical production, but we have added individuals who are specifically focused on production areas that haven't gotten as much guidance in the past. We have two individuals who are serving as technical directors (Tim Italiano and Brad Mackowick), a costume designer (Peter Vandervort), a scenic designer (Chris Olson), a lighting designer (Kerry Horst) and a sound designer (Brian Eyler). Each individual has brought their own experience and artistry to the show and has played a crucial part in transforming the stage for this production and the skill sets of the youth they are working closely with.