A swashbuckling romp through a sea battle and treasure hunt gives Madison High School students a chance to shine when they take the stage for "The Pirate Bride" this week -- and shine they do.
With a strong cadre of seniors graduating last year, this year's performance gives sophomores and juniors a chance to step into strong roles. Among them are Enoch Martin in the role of the jilted fiance Bertrand Fantouille and Addy Meyer in the role of a pirate captain Fleur de Lees, who not only act with panache but does so while maintaining a French accent.
In searching for this year's play, director Anne Elisa Brown took a variety of factors into account. Among them was student preference.
"They asked for something that was a comedy and fun," she said.
The students were also interested in doing something with pirates. None had acted in a pirate play, but some had seen siblings do so more than five years ago. Brown also wanted a play that offered more than a few students the opportunity to hone and showcase their skills.
"That's the challenge, finding a play with that many speaking parts," Brown explained. "That's not how most theater is written."
An added bonus was the length of the play. Brown ordered it because it met the criteria established without knowing the length. When the script arrived, she learned that it was about an hour in length.
"Because of COVID and the possibility that school could be shut down, I thought a short play would be good," Brown said.
"The Pirate Bride" opens aboard a British merchant ship captained by senior Oliver Jankord in the role of Roger Thornwood. Everything goes awry when a French woman fleeing an undesirable marriage, Lizette de Champlay portrayed by senior Kelsey O'Connell, comes aboard.
She thwarts his efforts to return her to her family by firing his cannons on the ship carrying her parents and fiance. The fast-paced adventure takes place aboard two ships and on a jungle island inhabited by a band of female pirates.
A simple but clever set design, which utilizes projected images and simple props, provides enough information for viewers to know where the action is taking place without distracting attention from the actors themselves.
"It was hard to block at first, to figure out how to do the different kinds of ships," Brown noted.
In addition to creating different spaces between scenes, Brown had to take into consideration the various types of action which would take place, from swordplay to a coconut fight. In addition, some scenes had numerous characters on stage simultaneously which had to be accommodated without crowding.
As a director, Brown enjoyed watching scenes develop, especially the coconut duel.
"The most fun part is watching them make things their own," she said.
Similarly, she was pleased with the way actors embraced their characters and generated ideas which take life on the stage. She mentioned Martin using his body posture to reflect how his character is affected by what he learns as the play progresses.
"He wants to show a physical deflation of his ego," Brown explained.
But she saw actors grow in their craft in smaller ways as well. Some who also participated in the school's one-act this year did not know what to do with their hands in that production. In this play, they had ideas which helped them create their characters.
Among those Brown identified was Hannah Meyer, who has a smaller part as one of the pirates.
"She really hit her stride and became much more of a character actor," Brown said.
Because the performance is fast-paced, costuming was crucial. The audience must be able to distinguish at a glance whether a character is French, British or a pirate. For Brown, meeting this challenge was a pleasure.
"One of the things I enjoy most is designing the costumes," she admitted.
It is, however, a time-consuming task. She estimated spending between 20 and 30 hours at that. Once she has visual images for each of the characters, she works with Amanda Rollins to create what she envisions.
"I'm always so proud of our costumes," Brown said. "Amanda and I had so much fun with this one."
For "The Pirate Bride," Rollins made the uniforms for the British sailors and Brown found the other costumes, both drawing from what the theater department has and purchasing necessary items. The French noblewomen are dressed elegantly while the pirate women are dressed flamboyantly. The British are in red while the French are in blue.
The play brings more than a dozen other actors to the stage, including Taylor Harms as Francoise de Champlay, Hannah Aldridge as Peppy, Rene Hass as Anna, Alex Collins as Benedict, Ellie Studer as Sophie, Savannah Shipley as Pauline, Calvin Martin as August, Rowan Wicks as Claude, James Rollins as Blackbeard, Cassie Kelsey as Roslie, Madora Mott as Victoria de Champlay, and Wyatt Hopkins as Mate.
Olivia Bonner, Autumn Larson, Riley O'Connell and Kamryn Pierce fill out the cast as ship's crew and female pirates.
Dawn Wiebers is the technical director; Piper Davies is student director; and Ashlyn Rustand, Makena Schultz, Baily Gonyo and Emma Murray comprise the tech crew.
Three performances of "The Pirate Bride" will be open to the public: 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 2 p.m. on Saturday. The performance will be in the high school auditorium; seating is limited.
Although tickets will be available at the door, the public is encouraged to reserve tickets. Friends and family of those involved in the performance were given the first opportunity to purchase tickets. Up to 150 tickets will be sold for each performance.
"Once the seats are gone, we can't add more," Brown said.