Theater teacher Maclain Looper knows his reputation in the Colorado Academy theater community.
“Sad play? Looper must be directing,” he jokes. “But I like to laugh, too!”
That’s why he selected The 39 Steps as the Upper School play, a production he describes as “a spy story married to a mystery put on by Monty Python.” The 39 Steps was inspired by a 1939 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which was loosely based on a 1915 novel. Despite the play’s century-long provenance, Looper believes it was the right choice for current times.
“The world has been pretty hard to navigate the past couple of years,” he says. “We needed something light and frivolous that helped us lose ourselves.”
“Mr. Looper would say, ‘Bigger, bigger, more!’” adds Senior cast member Abigail Shapiro. “I think he meant for us to be over the top, and when we started to hear the laughs from the audience, it was fun.”
A cast of four—not!
The 39 Steps has a central device—more than 100 roles are supposed to be played by just four people. But so many Upper School students auditioned, Looper decided to expand the cast, so that more students would have the opportunity to get on stage.
“In auditions, the students were so much fun to be with, and they were so good to each other, creating a supportive atmosphere,” he says. “I needed to take them all.”
“Everyone was so kind, talented, and driven,” says Shapiro. “We bonded over our shared love for the theater, and we really became even more close during rehearsals.”
“Looper did a phenomenal job of divvying up the work,” adds Senior Christian Barnard, who played the main character, Richard Hannay. Barnard thinks he knows why there was so much interest in this play.
“The new space in the Leach Center for the Performing Arts is fantastic,” he says. “It’s had an effect on the theater community at CA. There’s a renaissance taking place and a lot more interest in theater from people.”
A theatrical play—yes!
Looper was inspired by the Leach Center when he chose The 39 Steps.
“It’s a piece that celebrates what theater can do—you have actors crawling through picture frames, and it makes the audience use their imagination constantly,” he says. “With a brand-new theater, this is the kind of theatrical play we should do.”
“The Leach Center feels so professional and top-notch,” adds Shapiro. “You feel like it’s a real performance—not just a high school performance.”
But beyond the choice of play and the quality of the performance space, the theater experience is most important at CA. This was Christian Barnard’s eleventh production. He describes his involvement in theater as a “catharsis,” which allows him to escape the demands of a hectic schedule. He says performing also teaches him about life.
“I try on these roles and experiment through zany, terrible, or relatable characters,” Barnard says. “With that comes empathy. I am able to better understand all sorts of people.”