All Aboard The Ghost Train

With every blog I write here, I try my darndest to make the title as clever a pun as possible. I consider this in the spirit of good journalism. I also consider this in the spirit of my current show, The Ghost Train, which lends itself to a litany of loco locomotive puns.

  • Wow, that rehearsal really went off the rails.
  • But don’t worry, we’re right on track.
  • That was my train of thought.
  • Full steam ahead!
  • And my personal favorite – chug life.

Now in case you’re still thinking The Ghost Train is a serious commentary on the state of the U.S. infrastructure, let me clarify even further by saying that it’s about a band of disparate travelers who’s night train has broken down, leaving them stranded at a rural station in northern Maine. This is no ordinary train station mind you… in fact, it is HAUNTED by a paranormal locomotive that drives any witness to madness. The travelers must then put aside their personal troubles to solve the mystery and save the day.

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For my part, I play Charles, a newly married young man who would love nothing more than to get to his honeymoon hotel. Believe me, those are some pretty high stakes but don’t get too caught up in the details, this play is just plain fun.

Aiding in the irreverence is the time period in which The Ghost Train was written. The play, by Arnold Ridley, is full-on 1920s and premiered in London in 1923, running sold-out for over a year. In the subsequent decades it was made into several movies and established the trope of “strangers who get stranded and have to come together to defeat something bigger than themselves.” I would also say that William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were probably familiar with this play when they produced Scooby-Doo – there are so many of the same conventions!*

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My personal favorite rendition of the “people stranded together” story – the haunted train episode of Hey, Arnold!

With such a history, it escapes me as to how I’ve never heard of this play. It may be almost a hundred years old but the humor is astoundingly fresh; it’s silly and absurd what some of these characters do in the midst of a haunted train station.

This production also promises to offer a unique perspective on the play. Produced by Wayward Theatre Company and Mission Theatre Company, the show is be performed in partnership with the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul. The museum itself is in an old train depot and includes actual train cars! It’s super cool and brings a level of authenticity to the hi-jinks abounding. Definitely look into it and come to the show early enough to be able to look around the place and seeing some really interesting bits of history, when trains were the only practical mode of transportation.

You can do that soon when The Ghost Train pulls into the station on March 31st!

Choo Choo.

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*Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were the actual creators of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, so in all fairness to them, it was probably they who were inspired by The Ghost Train.

 

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Yo Ho, We’re Off and Sailing

Last month I was back in the director’s chair with a fifth grade production of Treasure Island. The show was at Sunset Hill Elementary in Plymouth, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) and I was actually co-directing with another theatre artist in town, Amy Abrigo.

The show was something that was handed off to me late in the game but of course I accepted with eagerness. While I’ve directed a bunch of community theatre and high school students, it had been a while since I’d been in charge of so many little ones. I had been a substitute teacher in Florida and experienced what a handful of second graders could be, but to be fair to all those fifth graders reading this, they’re not that bad. They are in a transitional age group where they are old enough to be “cool” and talk to you like an adult, but still young in that they have very little self-control, respect or understanding of the consequences their actions may have. In short, it was a mixed-bag of screaming and praising.

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While the rehearsal process lasted a few weeks, it was only for two short afternoons a week  where most of my time was spent herding cats and being a disciplinarian. The whole time I kept reassuring myself that “it will all come together in the end”, because I am no stranger to the way shows work out sometimes. However, while I knew at some point those kids would listen to me and memorize their lines, I wasn’t fool enough to think it would just happen on it’s own.

I did the kids, Amy and myself a favor and took a hatchet to the already short script. Being that Treasure Island a story we’re all kind of familiar with I said nuance-be-damned and essentially cut out anything that didn’t feature Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver. The show was a musical as well so that really helped bridge any gaps in the story. Even with those cuts, the show was just under forty minutes! Which flew by but was plenty, believe you me.

Of course my eternal optimism was rewarded in the end and the two performances went off without a hitch. The little bastards pulled it off and I was ultimately proud of them. I was even witness to some extremely humble moments when they would confide in me about how nervous they were to perform in front of their peers… it was very touching! It’s so funny working with kids that age because you really do want the best for them and think they are just the cutest, but damn do you want to wring their necks. I say all of this, of course, with tremendous love and I think anyone who has shared my shoes gets it 100%.

Finally, I would just like to include the cast list here (pictures will come at some point on my directing page) so one day one of those little munchkins can Google their name and read exactly what I thought of them. Also, here’s a song from the show that was the absolute bane of my existence.

Yo ho ho!

Sunset Hill Elementary
presents

TREASURE ISLAND
by
Kathryn Schultz Miller

Directed by
Vincent S. Hannam and Amy Abrigo

with
Will Kirven
Lilah Krauth
Amanda Michelsen
Colin Bissonette
Jaden St. Urbain
Emily Raiche
LeBraun Dewey
Kaelyn Hvidsten
Seth Aydinalp
Christina Nockel
Charlotte Thompson
Sam Hulst
Camryn Balloy
Myra Klumb
Tyler Jensen
Sebastian Lumitap
Nishanth Baddigam
Angelina Pyle
Raziah Loyd
Ivan Vasylchenko
Gia Wees
Sanaiia Montgomery
Soo-Jin Lee
Bergan Wolf
Gabe Wernimont
Ella Dando
Avery Mikolai

Technical Crew:
Noah Stephens, Jacob Behr, Thomas Theising,
Luke Schultz, Nadia Fessenmeir, Talia Eddy, Nate Lindblad

Technical Director/ Producer:
Julie Schottler