Staging a ‘Nightmare’ in Searsport

By Dagney C. Ernest | Dec 05, 2012
Photo by: Chris Goosman The last Midcoast school to join this year’s fall musical fold, Searsport District High School, and the adjacent Middle School, will open an original stage adaptation of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Thursday, Dec. 6. Pictured in front are Brianna Housman as Sally and Julian Cross as Jack Skellington.

Searsport — Ah, Christmas … the season of goodwill. But for some people, even those who celebrate it, the holidays can be a nightmare. The theater students of Searsport District High School, working with their counterparts at the adjoined middle school, will address this reality with fantasy by presenting “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in the schools’ cafetorium.

Performances of Searsport’s own stage adaptation of the 1993 Tim Burton movie will be Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. The school is on Mortland Street, off Route 1, and tickets will be $5 at the door.

It’s not the first time theater teacher Chris Goosman and her students have taken a big screen musical and put it on their diminutive stage. Some years ago, they adapted Disney’s “Newsies” for a production that holds the school record for the largest cast — 93 — thanks to its inclusion of students from the town’s elementary school. “Nightmare” has 40-plus in the cast, still an impressive tally.

“It’s a good number, considering our enrollment,” said Goosman a week before the three-nights-only run.

As their starting point, the Searsport troupe had the movie script, found posted online, and music books that contained the movie’s songs.

“Of course, we don’t have the in-between music Danny Elfman wrote for the movie,” said Goosman.

But they do have Lincoln Blake, well-known local jazz pianist, on the keyboards, and parent Michael Hausman on drum machine. They also have a practical approach to transforming stop-motion animated characters into flesh-and-blood students on stage.

“We didn’t make a lot of changes. Of course, it’s not the same as the movie but we have a lot of the elements. We don’t have those kinds of special effects, but it’s a strong story,” Goosman said.

For those how don’t know the popular Goth-influenced movie — and that includes some of the younger cast members — “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is set in a world where each holiday has a town and explores what happens when the residents of Halloween Town decide they want to do Christmas. Characters include witches, demons, ghouls and vampires; famous scares such as the Werewolf, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, Cyclops and a Behemoth; and, dropping in from other Towns, a singing tree, the Easter Bunny and some elves. Oh, and Santa Claus — or The Sandy Claws, as Halloween Town interprets the Jolly Old Elf.

“We have some alumni working on the show. Jessica Ploszaj put together the set and lighting design, Renae Curtis [Traves] is working costumes and Quin Fraser is playing Sandy Claws,” said Goosman.

Grads coming back to help out is a tradition at SDHS; many take part in Fort Knox’s Fright at the Fort, which has been peopled by Searsport spooks for years, and almost every school production boasts alumni providing support in some way. But the bulk of the work is done by Goosman’s theater classes, which began working on the fall — almost winter this year — musical in September.

A week out, there was still a lot to do … including installing a big pool slide on stage right.

“We have to wait until the tank meetings are over,” said Goosman, referring to the well-publicized public hearings on a proposed liquid propane gas tank at Mack Point.

Some years after “Newsies,” another stage adaptation of that movie debuted in New York City, so who knows, the SDHS “Nightmare” might strike a similar spark.

“Maybe in a few years, we'll see somebody do this one on Broadway too,” said Goosman.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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