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Imagination comes to life

MCHS thespians prepare for opening night

Cody Fallon sat in a folding chair Thursday in the bright lights of the dressing room.

The Moffat County High School sophomore wore jeans and a T-shirt, and when he smiled, one corner of his mouth turned up in a shy smirk, revealing turquoise braces.

In just a few minutes, Fallon would grab an oversized hat, a loaf of bread and a teacup and stumble onto the high school auditorium stage, cackling and gesturing wildly.

He knows playing the Mad Hatter in the high school's spring production of "Alice in Wonderland" comes from somewhere inside him.

All it takes is imagination.

"We're totally polar opposites," Fallon said, comparing himself and the character. "I'm kind of the shy, quiet guy who would rather fade into the background. I'm not the guy in class who's cracking jokes or socializing."

As for the Hatter, his strange mannerisms and cryptic rhymes have no reason or logic.

"I think he's just crazy," Fallon said. "He's high on tea fumes or something."

When the curtain rises at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Fallon's portrayal of the Hatter hopefully will become near reality to children in the audience.

Performances also will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday and at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. April 17.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 5 to 11 and free for children younger than 5.

A tea party with cast members, who will remain in costume and in character, will take place after each performance with juice and snacks for $3 per person.

Director and drama teacher Casey Kilpatrick said the zany, wondrous story was adapted to be geared toward young children and play off their imaginations.

"The adaptation is different in that it leaves out a lot of the classic Disney stuff," Kilpatrick said. "There's no caterpillar or singing flowers. But the humor has such a kid-friendly twist to it.

"There are a lot of big characters, crazy noises and random giggling. I wanted something funny, something I could laugh at that shows the humor within the piece."

Kilpatrick admitted that when he was young and watched the original "Alice in Wonderland" Disney film, he didn't quite understand the deeper lessons of the story.

But even the MCHS cast members were learning the depth of the themes that Alice discovers in Wonderland as they rehearsed the play.

"There's a world that exists within each of us that defines our childhood and defines our imaginations," Kilpatrick said. "And sometimes it's OK to go with your imagination."

Long way to Wonderland

The journey down the rabbit hole began more than a year ago for some cast members.

In winter 2009, Kilpatrick announced he'd direct 'Alice' as his first play at MCHS.

The play had been cast, and Kilpatrick began blocking a few of the scenes when a Feb. 23 fire ravaged the auditorium and derailed the production.

Officials called the fire arson, but no headway has been made in the case.

With no performing space that offered the flexibility or the technical specifications of the high school auditorium, the show was canceled.

Fallon, who had been cast as the Mad Hatter his freshmen year, said losing the play was difficult after all the hard work the cast had put in.

"It was sad, and I really felt for I don't know how many seniors who didn't get the chance to do it," Fallon said.

But Fallon and three other cast members would get a second chance to bring Wonderland to life.

Others would get a first.

Playing opposites

The role of Alice was double cast with freshmen Karli Griffith playing Alice for the Friday and Saturday night performances. Junior Emily Miller will play the role Thursday and Saturday afternoon.

While Miller has been in MCHS productions before, Kilpatrick said he wanted to take a chance on casting a freshman as a lead.

Griffith, who is in Kilpatrick's acting class this semester, has shown she has a lot of potential, he said.

"Acting is a way to escape," Griffith said. "And you don't have to worry about messing up a dance move or singing the wrong note. You're speaking; you can always ad lib."

Griffith, who often wears pink, blue and purple eye shadow, said her nickname has been "Hollywood" ever since she can remember.

"I guess I just like being the center of attention," she said. "It's in my blood. I'm flamboyant, and I love the adrenaline."

But for Griffith, playing quiet, demure Alice takes a lot more than a spotlight shining on her.

"K.P. (Kilpatrick) keeps telling me, 'You've got to be more innocent,'" Griffith said. "It's the exact opposite of what I am. It's a real challenge.

"I guess Alice isn't supposed to be sarcastic."

Despite the challenges of playing fictional characters so drastically different from the students' realities, Kilpatrick has confidence that when opening night rolls around, the cast will have fully grasped the essence of their characters.

"I need the kids to completely sell out with their characters," he said. "So far, I've been completely impressed with every one of them. They give me their all. Even on the days when I'm frustrated or upset, they give me 110 percent."

That effort has affected the students outside of rehearsal, as well.

Fallon said he noticed he socializes more outside of school, perhaps radiating a little bit of the Hatter's exuberance, who, in the MCHS production, occasionally dances to Lady Gaga songs at tea parties.

But before he first got on stage, he never would have expected that side of him to emerge.

"I surprised myself," he said. "I was shocked at what I did. I guess it's just wanting to be someone different than myself sometimes.

"It's acting. It's bigger than you are."

Freshman Karli Griffith, playing the role of Alice, goes down the rabbit hole where senior Janna Thompson holds a sign during play rehearsal Thursday in the Moffat County High School auditorium. The play, "Alice in Wonderland," will feature four performances next week, a year after an auditorium fire canceled last year's performance.Shawn McHugh