If you could live forever, would you?

New England Youth Theatre presents 'Tuck Everlasting'

BRATTLEBORO — From time immemorable, man has dreamed about the possibility of immortal life. What would you do if you could live forever?

Claudia Shear's and Tim Federle's screenplay based on Natalie Babbitt's novel poses that very question in "Tuck Everlasting," opening Thursday, Dec.7, at New England Youth Theatre at 7 p.m. Additional performances will be held at 7 p.m., this Friday and Saturday, and on Dec. 14, 15, and 16. Performances are also scheduled for 2 p.m., this Saturday and Sunday, and on Dec. 16 and 17.

It's the first time "Tuck Everlasting" will be performed in this region.

NEYT is one of only a handful of theaters given rights to "Tuck Everlasting" after it closed on Broadway last spring in the Samuel French pilot program. The rights are contingent upon the theater keeping notes and getting feedback from students, a process to perfect the scripts for educational use and community theater. Rewrites based on this feedback will then be made to include transitions and music where needed, making the script better adapted for smaller venues.

"We feel really lucky, it is such a beautiful story," said NEYT executive director Hallie Flower, who is directing the performance.

Flower said usually plans are made a year in advance for the season's holiday program, but they felt it would be worth the gamble to wait and see if they had a chance at being chosen for "Tuck Everlasting."

When Flower announced the good news in August, it was "in the office to a whole gaggle of students. Everyone got excited and loud," she said.

The book is a beautifully written story that explores what makes a full life, and whether living forever really makes for the best life. As seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, Winnie Foster, it is a life-affirming story about the natural wheel of life.

Winnie, who feels overprotected and anxious for adventure, runs away with the circus where she encounters the Tucks, who have the secret to eternal life. She must decide whether to drink the water from the magical spring and join the Tucks in an infinite journey, or return to her life and experience a normal existence and all the joy it offers.

"We are so fortunate to be able to introduce this beautiful material to our region, and we have such a wonderful cast of singers, actors, and dancers to tell the story" said Flower. "Our proximity to the fictional `Treegap, N.H.' makes it especially fun for the cast and crew alike, most of whom have read the novel as part of their school curriculum," she said.

The cast includes NEYT students from age 10 to 19, as well as some familiar faces and some newcomers.

Choreographer Katherine Paddington tells the Tucks' story through movement with the cast and a few Brattleboro School of Dance dancers in traditional jazz, contemporary ballet, and acrobatics. They're decked out in custom costumes created by Southern Vermont costume historian and designer Veda Crewe and a team of students.

David Stern, the artistic director of Main Street Arts, directed a workshop on scenic painting for the students, and local visual artist Maria Pugnetti contributed her expertise in scenic design and prop construction. Professional hairstylist Zac Binney designed the period hairstyles with the children and Jana Zeller of Putney's Sandglass Theater helped students create the puppet toad that leads Winnie into the woods.

Additionally, Flower herself is mentoring a student apprentice director, Aiden Meyer, who is learning all aspects of putting together a production.

Musical accompaniment will be provided by the Pit Band Program in collaboration with the Brattleboro Music Center. The score, composed by Chris Miller with lyrics by Nathan Tysen, is melodic and conjures up images of a carefree life in the forest.

The production is also part of NEYT's new professional apprentice program. The development program, made possible by a grant from the Clowes Fund, is designed to connect NEYT students with our region's theater and theater-related professionals through personalized, advanced, skills-based instruction.

New England Youth Theatre is and always has been theatre "for kids by kids." This program affords the organization an even greater ability to teach and mentor kids in all aspects of technical theater, from costume design to set construction and design, positioning students to take on leadership roles in the planning, designing, and performing of NEYT's productions throughout the year.

Together with costumes by Sandy Klein, a moving set designed and constructed by Jason Clark, and lighting designed by Jerry Stockman, "Tuck Everlasting" promises to be a visually, musically, and emotionally engaging musical about love, family, and living life to the fullest, making for a can't-miss show.

Tickets for these performances are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $13 for students. They may be purchased in advance at neyt.org, in person at the NEYT box office, or by phone at 802-246-6398 from noon to 5 p.m .on Wednesdays. The show plays at New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St. New England Youth Theatre is an accessible theater, with accommodations for wheelchairs, and assistive listening devices for patrons who are hard of hearing. This show was made possible through the generous support of the Trust Company of Vermont, Berkley & Veller Greenwood Country Realtors, and Europa IT.

New England Youth Theatre is also supported by Foard Panel, the Vermont Children's Trust Fund, Vermont Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261


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