“I read dozens of scripts each year to find one that is a good fit for the middle school,” said Monica Colletti, a middle school performing arts teacher at The Harker School. She directs the fall play, and finding the perfect fit is a long process. “When researching this year’s show, I had heard that David Mamet, a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, had written a play for younger audiences.”
The show ended up being this year’s hilarious, lively play. “The Revenge of the Space Pandas,” is a sci-fi spoof that centers around two kids, Binky Rudich (Akhil Arun, grade 6) and Vivian Mooster (Amrita Singh, grade 7), along with Binky’s pet sheep, Bob (Maxwell Woehrmann, grade 6). In the play, Binky invents a two-speed clock, which slows time and allows them to spin off Earth and onto the planet Goolagong, which is ruled by Georgina Topax (Chandler Nelson, grade 8) and guarded by giant space pandas.
Casting started in early September, and Colletti remembers exactly what drew her to pick the main characters. Arun had a naturally curious and innocent quality that she wanted for the character Binky. Singh, she remembers, had an attractive “high energy and youthful spirit in the auditions.” Woehrmann, who plays a very civilized, nearly human sheep, was picked nearly right away. “As soon as I saw him, I thought he would make a great Bob.”
The cast list was posted about a week later, and they jumped right into rehearsals, which presented fun challenges not just for the cast, but for the crew as well. On the planet Goolagong, people are executed by having a giant pumpkin dropped onto them. Danny Dunn, the technical director at the lower school, came in to assist the tech crew in creating a three-foot tall, four-foot wide, extremely light pumpkin.
Colletti said one thing in particular also helped everyone find his or her voice. “The kids really seemed to come into their characters as soon as we had the costumes,” she said.
With all the pieces in place, the cast put on a truly fun, high energy, out-of-this-world show that took them for rescuing a kidnapped sheep to landing in space prison. They not only got to perform it for family and friends, but also got to go to lower school, and perform it for the students there.
Colletti said she ended up having a lot of favorites with this show, but nothing could compare to the feeling of watching the closing performance. “Up to that point,” she said, “I [was] still taking notes and making suggestions to the actors. But during that last performance I ha[d] the opportunity to watch a really fun play starring the kids I’ve had the chance to get to know really well. I love[d] that.”