Bess Park, founder and artistic director of Wild Hare Productions in Greenwood

BESS PARK

Theater, dance and performance company Wild Hare Productions of Greenwood has a full lineup of entertainment scheduled now through the new year.

Bess Park, Wild Hare’s founder and artistic director, said the nonprofit’s theatrical productions start off “really light and fluffy” this month with the world premiere of a comedic musical and transition to deeper, more solemn themes.

First up, in November, is the world premiere of an original musical with a long title written by Chris “Israel” Allen, “The Starfish Island, SC, Unified Town Council and School Board Meeting and Variety Show.”

Allen of Asheville, North Carolina is a Wild Hare Productions board member, actor, author and playwright.

Directed by Park, “Starfish Island” is a funny musical that explores some of the quirkiness of local government.

The lengthy title, Allen said, “is sort of a warning of what you are getting into.”

During the 1990s, for a time, Allen worked as a newspaper reporter, covering county commission meetings and school board meetings.

“That led to a couple of the issues you will see in the play,” he said. “I also wanted to create something where all the tropes of musicals made sense in a real-life context...The premise is that the mayor of this small town finds these meetings so boring that he has made them musicals.”

Allen said he didn’t set out to write a musical but that’s what happened.

“It was very deliberately written with Greenwood area actors in mind, for a Greenwood audience,” Allen said.

Allen did not compose any new music for “Starfish Island.” Instead, he’s using songs that are in public domain, all with new lyrics.

Park said the town of Starfish Island likes to do things its own way.

“It has a book of ordinances that is ridiculously gigantic,” Park said. “They deal with things any community does. Should there be a noise ordinance? Which school building architect are they going to approve? But, because these meetings are so boring, the town’s mayor decides to turn every meeting into a variety show.

“You have to draw a tune out of a bag and write lyrics to it, to present your case before the council/school board,” Park explained. “Then, the council/board in return, pulls a song out of a hat and prepares its deliberations. During that time, a variety act performs to keep everybody entertained. And, then, the council/board comes back to sing and dance its response.”

A fun twist with this play is that the variety show lineup is different for every scheduled performance.

The cast includes more than a dozen actors and numerous variety acts.

“We’ve got an assortment of acts,” Park said. “Think baton twirler to slam poet...None of them are supposed to be very polished. I laughed out loud when I read this script and I don’t often laugh out loud when I read a script for the first time. I think it’s one of Chris ‘Israel’ Allen’s best pieces. It’s very clever.”

Second, in December, is “Les Misérables.” This is a school version by Music Theatre International of the award-winning musical that takes place during 19th century France, following the journey of an ex-convict imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread.

The production is being partially supported through a grant from the Greenwood County Community Foundation.

“It’s serving as a pilot program to start what we want to be a musical theater performance ensemble,” Park said.

More than 20 young actors in middle school, high school and beyond are in this production.

Ben Bagwell is playing the role of Jean Valjean and Jarron Gravley is in the role of inspector Javert. Both actors are from Greenwood.

“Les Miserables” is being directed by Wendi Wimmer, and produced by Park. Wimmer and her daughter, Victoria Jackson, are choreographers for the musical.

Andrea Emerine Shepherd is music director.

“This production includes a lot of kids who have been involved with Wild Hare before and a whole lot of new ones,” Park said.

Bagwell, 20, said he was first introduced to “Les Misérables” while in middle school during a voice focus class in the ACTS program at Brewer Middle School in Greenwood.

“I’ve wanted to do this show for years,” Bagwell said. “It pretty much introduced me to the greatness of musical theater. It’s daunting to have the role of Jean Valjean because of the singing, but it’s an amazing role to play. It’s powerful. There is an abundance of talent here with this cast.”

Third, in January, comes Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

“Charlie Stowe is coming home from Boston to make a showing as King Claudius, the villain,” Park said. “Jason Morris is playing Hamlet. Kristen Long is playing Gertrude.”

The cast for this classic Shakepearean tragedy numbers about 20, Park said, noting among the actors is a father-daughter pair, Tim and Michelle Higginbotham.

“It’s fun, because with all three of these productions, we are getting a number of new and veteran Wild Hare performers,” Park said. “’Hamlet is being read in the school systems and I really wanted to start doing shows kids are reading in class. You want Shakespeare to come alive. You want to take Shakespeare from the page to the stage. If there are English teachers who would like us to do scenes or monologues or talk about the process in schools, please be in touch.”

Contact St. Claire Donaghy at 864-943-2518