Liberty High School’s drama company aims to captivate, frighten and amaze audiences with performances of “Sleepy Hollow,” this weekend during a world premiere of the new play by local playwright Danny Hughes, based on the legend of the headless horseman.
Performances are set for today, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., at the high school, 5855 Bartholow Road in Eldersburg. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee performance on Saturday.
Director and Liberty High teacher Danielle Dickstein said the show is a marvel of special effects, with fog and shadow work creating a spooky atmosphere to reflect the mysteries of folklore and encapsulate the feeling of being in a ghost story.
“My goal — in my four years with one group of students — is to try and give them as many different experiences of genres as possible,” Dickstein said. “We decided we would go a little spooky, suspenseful and dramatic this time around, so it has been a fun experience.”
Dickstein said she would rate the show PG-13, but only because the level of suspense may not be best for younger audiences.
The plot captures timeless elements of the story of Sleepy Hollow presented in the 1999 film of the same name, and brings the classic legend to life with all the charm of live theater, Dickstein said. A total of 64 students contributed to the show, including a cast of 36 actors.
Costumes were rented to reflect fashion trends 200 years ago, and dry ice for the fog machine will be the production’s biggest expense, Dickstein said.
Playwright Danny Hughes previously worked with Liberty High School when students performed his adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” in 2018. Dickstein said it is helpful to have a show’s writer present so students can ask questions and make adjustments as needed.
“It’s been a really good collaboration between students and a local writer,” Dickstein said.
The actors have become immersed in their roles and the layers of suspense each character brings to the dark and dreary world of the play, the director said.
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“We do a lot of character-building and character work, studying the lines and the script, and building questionnaires so that every single actor on stage has ownership of the role that they are playing,” Dickstein said.
“Sleepy Hollow” is also the greatest technical challenge the drama company’s lighting team has faced in years, Dickstein said, a great learning opportunity for students. Most of the play is set at night, and optical illusions do a good job of bringing the spectral horseman to life.
“It’s been good for them to learn and think about color theory, angles and where light sources are coming from outside,” Dickstein said. “Where do we want to place the moon? It’s things like that where there’s been a big learning curve.”
The show’s special effects encourage the audience to wonder if what they are seeing is real, which reflects characters in the play questioning the existence of the headless horseman. For a show that leans into the realm of myth, Dickstein said “Sleepy Hollow” is entirely relatable to students and audiences.
“It really is rooted in a sense of gossip, and how people get little tidbits of judgment from what they hear and see of judgment,” Dickstein said. “They’re homing in on how each individual and groups of people affect each other within a small town or small community, which I think the students can relate to a lot, within the high school world and then being in the small town where a lot of people in Carroll County have been raised.”
Tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance online at lhsdramaclub.com or at the door for $12. A $15 ticket allows for first-choice seating, although Dickstein said there are no bad seats in the auditorium.
“This is a tale that is rooted in history,” Dickstein said. “Why not extend your spooky season and come out to see it?”