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High school works through winter weather to open play this weekend

Students at the Grinnell high school have worked to produce “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” over the winter. Contributed photo.

While “Twelfth Night” opens at the College this weekend, another Shakespearean production will be premiering just down 8th Avenue at Grinnell Community Senior High School. The play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” offers a new perspective on “Hamlet” by following the various mishaps of two of the iconic tragedy’s minor characters.

The play is directed by Grinnell alum and native Kate Baumgartner ’15. It is the second show Baumgartner has directed at the high school since starting her position as director at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

Baumgartner was first introduced to the show when she saw it performed at the College in the fall of 2007 and decided to bring it to the high school for her first season as director.

“I find it very funny. … Additionally, scenically, the first scene is described as ‘A place without any visible character’ and there was something about the simplicity of the bare stage that I was really drawn to,” said Baumgartner.

The high school’s production is unique in that the roles of the title characters have been split among six actors rather than the traditional two. Baumgartner chose to divide the part because she anticipated the rigor each role demands, but no one could have predicted the relentless winter weather that has affected the rehearsal process.

“The weather has made it very difficult. We had about 27 rehearsals scheduled before dress week. … Eight of those were cancelled or compromised due to weather. Additional ones have spotty attendance because kids couldn’t make it in if they lived in rural areas, so the rehearsal process has been trying,” Baumgartner said.

The director praised the commitment of her actors and technicians to bring the show to life under difficult circumstances. Grinnell High School produces two plays a year, with students involved in every aspect.

“We do try pretty hard to get our students heavily involved in the technical side. We want it to be their show. We don’t want it to be adults who are showing up to build it for them. We do as much as we can by way of educating them and giving them the opportunity to make it their own.”

Baumgartner also said that the script of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” offers plenty of opportunities for in-depth analysis, specifically through its explorations of the existential themes of time and identity, which are cleverly exaggerated by Baumgartner’s triple casting.

“The script is sort of like Shakespeare in the sense that you can read it and read it … and still this week, I am discovering, ‘Oh, that play on words, I didn’t notice that!’ … It’s these themes that fold in on each other. … It’s not something the audience will ever pick up on because they only get to see it once, but that’s not why we do this. We do this to help the students and help them grow and help them get exposure to theatre, so being able to work with a script that continues to let them be excited and discover new things is a real treat,” Baumgartner said.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Grinnell Community High School. Tickets can be purchased in advance at McNally’s or the high school’s main office for $8, or for $10 at the door.

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