Dakota students excited to perform ‘The Hobbit’

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published November 5, 2014

 Dakota High School’s theatre program will make a foray into the fantasy genre when it hosts four performances of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” from Nov. 13-15.

Dakota High School’s theatre program will make a foray into the fantasy genre when it hosts four performances of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” from Nov. 13-15.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Next week, the Dakota High School auditorium will transform into Middle Earth when the school stages its production of “The Hobbit” for the local community.

A group of 65 Dakota theatre students have been preparing for the show since the start of the school year, and they will showcase the fruits of their labor with four performances from Nov. 13-15. There will be shows at 7 p.m. on all three dates, as well as a 1 p.m. matinee show on Nov. 15. Tickets are $5 apiece for guests of all ages.

“The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s acclaimed 1937 children’s novel, is one of the definitive works of the fantasy genre. In bringing the story to life on stage, the school chose to take on Patricia Gray’s 1968 theatrical adaptation, which was authorized by Tolkien himself.

According to Kelly Schmidt, Dakota’s drama director, the idea to try a play that was a little more off the beaten path than the typical Broadway classics came directly from her students.

“We just thought to ourselves, ‘What’s something that would really get people to come out and fill the seats?’” she recalled. “And so many of our kids were really excited to do ‘The Hobbit.’ We had about 80 kids come out for the auditions, which is a lot more than we usually get for a regular play. They all have ‘Hobbit’ fever right now.”

“The Hobbit” follows the quest of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to win a share of the treasure guarded by an evil dragon named Smaug. Bilbo’s journey takes him from light-hearted rural surroundings into more sinister territory, where he meets an array of dwarves, elves, hobbits, orcs, goblins and humans. By embracing his sense of adventure and applying his wits and common sense, Bilbo gains a new level of maturity, competence and wisdom, which culminates in a climactic final battle.

In Dakota’s production, the three biggest roles in “The Hobbit” will be split between two actors. Junior Jacob Laporte and senior Lakon Korchmar will play Bilbo, juniors Tyler Dargis and Sara Witgen will play Gollum, and senior Rachel Schmitt and junior Sadie Meyer will play the Elven Queen. Filling out the rest of the main cast are senior Paris Primeau as Smaug, junior Michael Serra as Thorin and senior James Koos as Gandalf. Senior Jon Farrell will serve as student director for the show.

“Instead of cutting out some great talent, we decided to cast two kids in a few of our major roles,” Schmidt explained. “It was a good problem to have, but we had so much interest that it definitely made it hard to cast this show. At first, we thought it was going to be really challenging to pull this off, but all of our leads are so good that they just disappear into these characters.”

Korchmar is a longtime fan of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series. She was “so excited” when the school chose to take on Tolkien’s breakthrough work, and she was beyond thrilled when she was selected for her dream role of Bilbo.

“He’s one of my favorite characters of all time, so it’s an honor to get the chance to play him,” she said. “Bilbo is almost a hero by accident, which makes him very easy to relate to. I love that there’s lots of great character development with him as the story goes along. That makes him a lot of fun to play because you get to take the audience on this journey with you.”

Like Korchmar, Serra was a devotee of the fantasy genre growing up. Unlike her, though, he had almost no acting experience going into September’s auditions for “The Hobbit.” In landing his first speaking role, he was grateful to be playing a part as important as Thorin, the leader of the dwarves.

“I think that being more familiar with (this genre), it helps you get into character a little better and know how to fit into your role,” Serra said. “It’s cool being able to act it out on stage like this and see it all come to life from start to finish. Each actor kind of puts their own spin on their character and brings their own quirks to them.”

Another thing that will help Dakota students establish the dark, magical world of “The Hobbit” is the elaborate costumes and makeup that will be featured in the show. A professional crew will be brought in to not only transform the actors’ faces and dress them in the proper wardrobe, but also to equip them with the prosthetics needed to portray elves, goblins and hobbits.

However, as Schmidt pointed out, bringing these creatures to life will still largely fall on the shoulders of the actors, who are tasked with finding an emotional connection with nonhuman characters and making the audience feel that connection.

“The kids really had to use their imagination for these roles,” she said. “They had to interpret how their character would walk, talk, dress, move, fight and communicate with others. It was actually a very interesting and exciting journey to watch the students grow their characters from the script.”

The cast and crew have been working hard to get those roles just right for opening night on Nov. 13. Their rehearsal schedule has been steadily ramping up as that date nears, and now they meet up to five days a week for their last run-throughs of “The Hobbit.”

Serra described these final days of rehearsal as “crunch time,” with the air of anticipation lingering over the students’ heads. But as Korchmar put it, the entire process has been a labor of love.

“Acting is my passion — I just love doing this,” she said. “It’s fun coming to rehearsal every day, so it never feels like a chore. Obviously I’m nervous, but the excitement always outweighs the nervousness. I honestly feel like this is going to be a great show.”

Tickets for Dakota High School’s production of “The Hobbit” are available online at http://dakotamusical.seatyourself.biz. They can also be purchased at the box office one hour before each show. For more information, contact Cassie Pearl at cpearl@cvs.k12.mi.us.

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