Guests gathered at the main entrance as the sun set.
Audience members enthusiastically showed their appreciation for the wonderful new space and those comfortable seats!
But perhaps no one was more excited than the actors and their director, James Meehan, because they had the first opportunity to show off the Leach Center stage.
“This was three times the largest audience I have ever performed in front of,” says Eighth Grader Rosie Risch, who plays Alice. “It’s a professional setting and very cool to be in a larger auditorium and test my ability to project and make an impression.”
“I think audiences—and even more important, students—will be wowed by the space,” says Meehan. “Now we can raise the bar on everything we do and give students the opportunity to experience theater as it should be.”
Perhaps the most breathtaking moment occurred early in the show, when a large, elaborately designed backdrop slowly inched its way down from its hiding place in the 48-foot fly loft. For years, CA audiences were accustomed to seeing scenery pushed on and off stage. Now, the Leach Center has the capability to make scene changes from high above the stage.
Meehan says he picked Alice in Wonderland for the Leach Center’s debut because it is “universally loved by all ages.” But there are those who might wonder whether the past year of theater performances—actors in masks standing on makeshift indoor stages or outdoors on the steps of a building—made everyone feel like they had gone down the rabbit hole. Meehan describes this version of Alice in Wonderland as “a little bit sassy.”
“It’s more playful and mysterious than it is overtly emotional,” he says. “It suits the performance abilities of Middle Schoolers.”
Seventh Grader Skye Leach is delighted to be cast against type as the Queen of Hearts.
“Playing the villain can really be fun,” she says. “She is ordering people around, beheading them, something I do not do, shockingly enough, in my real life!”
Seventh Grader Ben Zinn says acting is in his blood—both his sister and his father are actors. The appeal acting has for him might surprise you—it’s his stage fright.
“To me, it’s fun seeing how you can act different from the way you feel,” he says. “I try to pretend the audience is not there and become someone else other than myself.”
Rosie has performed in an acting company outside of school, and she loves being able to put her own stamp on the titular character. “There is a lot of flexibility with Alice,” she says. “You can choose her personality and tone, create a backstory for her, and make her what you want to make her.”
Setting the stage for the future
During rehearsals for the play, the actors found themselves evicted from the Main Stage for a time while it underwent some finishing touches. The good news is that in the new building there are options. Meehan took rehearsals into the spacious Black Box Theater. The actors looked forward to the day when they could practice on the real stage, where they had heard the acoustics are “insane,” as Skye puts it.
“The acoustics are superb,” says Meehan. “You can have a normal conversation on stage and hear it in the back row.”
The Middle School actors needed those outstanding acoustics because they were required by COVID-19 protocols to perform in masks. They also felt the weight of the very first performance in the new building on their shoulders.
“Mr. Meehan has told us you are going to practice until you are bored,” says Ben. “But when it comes to the performance, you will know what to do.”
“It feels really special that I am going to be in the first show,” adds Rosie.
Perhaps there is no better show than Alice in Wonderland, with its themes of imagination and absurdity, to debut the Leach Center. For so many years, the thought of a really wonderful performing arts center seemed like it might always be an absurd fantasy. But now it’s real and ready for new generations of CA actors.
“It feels like I am setting the stage for the future,” says Skye. And yes, Skye says, that pun is intended.