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Carlin journeys into the woods for her 12th spring musical at Northwood

By Gina Harrison
Posted Thursday, March 26, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - Leading her band of actors, musicians, technicians, and arts education faculty, Dr. Lori Carlin is heading out on her 12th spring musical at Northwood High School. She directs NHS Theatre Studies and is head of the NHS Arts Education Department. A graduate of Clemson University, last year she received her PhD in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from NC State. This year’s ambitious production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods follows sold out performances of 2008’s Grease! and 2007’s Disney’s Beauty & the Beast.

Q: It might seem that, with its Fairy Tale characters, Into the Woods is familiar territory for you and your actors. But this is show is very different from previous NHS productions like Once Upon a Mattress or Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. What are some of the new opportunities this work presents?

Carlin: Let's just blame it on the five-year-old princess I have running my household! No really, the musical selection every year is a departmental process. Usually I have a show in mind and find a way to convince the department to pick the same show. This year was different, I had no ideas and so I asked each of the arts teachers independently and two (three if you count that this was one of the ways we “got” Ms. Shugart) chose Into the Woods. I was not as familiar with this particular show and viewed it as a challenge. I love a challenge but, whew! We chose the show back in May of last year and have been working on production ideas ever since.

While the idea of a fairy tale runs parallel to our previous shows, I think that our audience will be surprised by how different this show is from our past productions. Everyone knows Beauty and the Beast and so our interpretation couldn't be too far from the Disney version. Once Upon a Mattress was one of my favorite shows simply because it was so fun. The cast was fun, the set was fun, the music was fun. Into the Woods introduces a whole new dynamic into our repertoire. While the familiar characters and story lines will engage our audience, I believe the deeper message will leave a lasting impact. It is an interesting challenge (did I mention that I love those?) to convey the underlying themes to our teenagers who, in turn, will convey those themes to our audience. We are expecting a great deal of our cast, more than ever before in terms of vocal production, musicality, and characterization. Our cast is wonderful and our teachers are dedicated. I believe that our audience will be moved by our amazing kids!

Q: With Northwood in the midst of major renovation work, Into the Woods is an apt metaphor for the journey you and your cast are taking this spring. What are challenges for mounting this year’s show? And different lessons learned for the cast?

Carlin: I love the idea as a metaphor! I think it speaks to the nature of my department that in the most challenging circumstances we chose to produce one of the hardest musicals available. I cannot tell you how many times we've wondered why we didn't choose You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown with a cast of 6 and a minimalist set! The challenges we've faced and will continue to encounter are endless. Right now the auditorium is being used during the school day for two classrooms. I teach theatre on the stage while Mr. Cottrell teaches instrumental music on the other side of the curtain. It is every bit as impossible as it sounds! The county provided storage trailers so much of our furniture, costuming, and props are packed away. Some equipment, however, cannot be stored elsewhere and so we are trying to make do with a tremendous amount of professional courtesy and cooperation. For rehearsals, we take down the tables and chairs used by my classes during the day and my first period class puts them back every morning. We are constructing the set in the midst of this arrangement—which is proving to be rather interesting. Right now I have these marvelous platforms that I can use to walk "above" my classes while I monitor their progress. Pretty soon my classes will be avoiding periodic trees and various other set pieces that have to be anchored to the stage and battons. Beyond the challenge of the show itself, Ms. Burwell, Eric Foss (student stage manager) and I have developed plans for a beautiful yet intense set design. I think the fact that our students are watching us make these decisions and plans in the midst of these circumstances will help them to believe that anything is possible.

Q: If your audiences would like to do a little homework before attending this year production, is there background information you’d recommend?

Carlin: I do recommend that our audience brush up on their fairy tales! In particular, "Little Red Riding Hood" "Jack and the Bean Stalk," "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel." The show combines elements of these and other classic tales. Always the educator, I would encourage our audience to find or borrow a child and READ these tales to them, then bring them to the show!

Q: This show is often described as a fairy tale for adults, and the second act certainly gives an interesting opportunity to contemplate the idea of “being careful what you wish for.” For what ages do you think the production is appropriate?

Carlin: I think our first act is appropriate for any child over the age of 4. This will be the first NHS production that my daughter will be in the audience for and she is 5. The second act has more of a serious, and at times frightening, overtone. Due to the serious nature of the second act, we will not be insulted if parents with small children opt to leave during intermission. There is a very good chance that we will be holding a Sunday matinee performance on March 22nd, 2009 that will be open to children and their parents only. We are planning to work with CORA Food Pantry to see about the possibility of using canned foods as an entrance fee. In this way we be helping out our community, providing extremely low cost entertainment for our young people, and providing additional performance opportunities for our own kids. More on that later!

The NHS Production of Into the Woods runs March 26-28 at 7 o'clock in the evening in the Benjamin J. Lee Auditorium on the Northwood High School campus in Pittsboro. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children under 5.

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Carlin journeys into the woods for her 12th spring musical at Northwood
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