CHAPEL HILL - The play that Chapel Hill High School intended to stage this fall featured young characters who find themselves transported to an astonishing alternate world when their school bus bounces over a bump.
That didn’t quite work out. After paying New York playwright David Rimmer $4,000 for an original theatrical adaptation of his novel “Bump,” theater director Thomas Drago said he and his students wound up with a script they couldn’t stage.
So, instead, Chapel Hill’s fall play will feature a young character who finds herself transported to an astonishing alternate world when she falls down a rabbit hole.
CHHS will present a stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland” at the school’s Hanes Auditorium Nov. 15-17.
Although Drago and his students were disappointed that the original idea didn’t pan out, the energy and enthusiasm before a recent dress rehearsal was palpable.
“The cast and crew are all very pleased that we switched,” said junior Gabby Abrams, the stage manager. “We felt that ‘Bump’ was inappropriate for a school show, and we all agreed there was just no way to make it work for us.
“So now we have a really great show, one that allows us to do so many really creative things. It was the right move.”
To get everybody in a Wonderland mood, Drago and the cast will throw a Mad Hatter Tea Party – two of them, actually – at the West End Public Event Center today. The festivities will include tea, desserts, costume contest and visits by Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and other characters.Under contract
CHHS, which staged Rimmer’s “New York” last year, commissioned him to write the stage version of “Bump” for $4,000. Rimmer, whose play “Album” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1981, wrote the play and sent Drago his script.
“I was not entirely happy with it,” Drago said.
“Technically, it was extremely difficult, more like a screenplay than a stage play,” he said. “There were so many characters I thought audiences would get confused, and the resolution was a little unclear. I was very doubtful that we could stage this show and meet the high standards we hold. So I asked him to make some changes.”
Drago said he assumed Rimmer would be open to revising the play.
“I was under the impression that it was a collaboration,” Drago said. “But he didn’t want to make any changes. We went back and forth, and it became clear that we disagreed about who owned the play.
“I didn’t want to get us caught up a legal mess, so I asked our principal whether we could change direction and cut our losses. She agreed.”
The largest portion of the money – $1,750 – paid by the contract to Rimmer came from the drama department’s account, which comes mainly from ticket sales, Drago said.
A performing arts parents group donated $1,000, the district gave $750 and the Arts Department contributed $500 of its annual PTSA money.
For his part, Rimmer said only that he was informed the show had been cancelled.
“I can tell you that, per the agreement I made with them, the rights were, and are, owned by me,” Rimmer said by email. The right track
Junior Elizabeth Judd, who plays the Queen of Hearts, said the company is on the right track with “Alice.”
“I respected what he was going for,” she said of Rimmer’s play. “But it didn’t really come through for us. We’re very happy with ‘Alice.’ We’re much better off, and it’s going to be a great show.”
Two students independently suggested “Alice in Wonderland” as an alternative once “Bump” fell through, Drago said.
“It’s a great idea, because there’s a symmetry with what we had been working on,” Drago said. “They’re both about kids who find an alternate world and face things that seem nonsensical but force them to face their fears.”
The school’s version of “Alice” sticks closely to the Carroll’s original, Drago said.
“All the dialogue comes directly from the books,” he said. “It’s a tech-heavy play, and a huge show for costumes. The costumes, in a way, become the scenery, because you have actors playing Humpty Dumpty, playing cards, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter and so on.”
The cast numbers 33 – plus a cat, Kitty – and the crew is roughly the same size. Sophomore Sadie Frank plays Alice.
“She’s incredible,” Drago said. “She is onstage for the entire play, and she is so dedicated and pleasant to work with.”
Aaron Shaw, a senior who plays The Mad Hatter, said CHHS can bring something new to the familiar tale.
“We’ll do that by the uniqueness of every student in the cast, by the creativity of the tech crew, by the imagination drawn from the book, and by the wonder of this school,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of working on this play.”