Hartford Crafts Original Play

  •  Justin Gere gets some last-minute direction before a rehearsal of Homework Eats Dog, at Hartford High School Friday<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Justin Gere gets some last-minute direction before a rehearsal of Homework Eats Dog, at Hartford High School Friday
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Playwright Alan Haehnel, middle, choreographs a lift of Stephen Witkowski, with Alex Page, left, Brady McNeil, right, and choreographer Christina Megli, foreground right, during a rehearsal for Homework Eats Dog and Other Woeful Tales: The Musical.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Playwright Alan Haehnel, middle, choreographs a lift of Stephen Witkowski, with Alex Page, left, Brady McNeil, right, and choreographer Christina Megli, foreground right, during a rehearsal for Homework Eats Dog and Other Woeful Tales: The Musical.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The cast of My Homework Ate My Dog rehearses at Hartford High School last week. The musical is written by two local teachers.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    The cast of My Homework Ate My Dog rehearses at Hartford High School last week. The musical is written by two local teachers.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  •  Justin Gere gets some last-minute direction before a rehearsal of Homework Eats Dog, at Hartford High School Friday<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Playwright Alan Haehnel, middle, choreographs a lift of Stephen Witkowski, with Alex Page, left, Brady McNeil, right, and choreographer Christina Megli, foreground right, during a rehearsal for Homework Eats Dog and Other Woeful Tales: The Musical.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • The cast of My Homework Ate My Dog rehearses at Hartford High School last week. The musical is written by two local teachers.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

For years, Rob Gattie and Alan Haehnel had talked about writing a musical together. They tried it from scratch a few years ago, but the project didn’t come together.

But last summer, Haehnel, a longtime teacher at Hartford High School who now works at Hanover High, approached Gattie, a 34-year music teacher at Hartford, with the idea of converting a one-act play Haehnel had written into a two-act musical.

“I just called Rob,” Haehnel said. “I said, this is the year we should write a musical.”

The result, Homework Eats Dog and Other Woeful Tales: The Musical, is the first home-grown musical performed at Hartford High. It goes up tomorrow night at 7 through Saturday night in the high school’s theater. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for senior citizens and are available at the school’s main office, or at the theater box office, which opens at 6:15 each night.

The time seemed right for several reasons. Hartford High’s theater was being renovated, and it seemed like a good idea to craft a play with less elaborate sets than the Broadway musicals the school typically puts on, Haehnel said. The size of the casts in the musicals has been declining, and a smaller show made sense.

So the two men spent the summer writing lyrics and melodies. Haehnel would write songs and record himself humming a tune, which he would then email to Gattie.

“It felt like a natural extension of my play writing,” said Haehnel, who has written close to 100 one-act plays and has been directing theater for more than two decades.

Despite Gattie’s long career in music education, the play marks the first time he’s written songs.

“I wrote one in high school, and as I say in the program, it didn’t inspire me to do any more,” he said.

The play follows a science teacher whose chief delight is listening to his students’ pathetic excuses when they seek extensions on a particularly difficult assignment. The students concoct a plan to get more time, led by the class’ best and brightest.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Justin Gere, a 16-year-old junior who plays the teacher, Mr. Kobekeanski. (Hartford students might recognize the name as a mashup of Messrs. Kobe and Keane, longtime teachers at the high school.)

Performing a new play means breaking new ground, which makes things at once easier and harder. Gere said it’s handy having the authors right there directing things. “I just feel like, it’s the director’s show. It can be morphed and changed however they want to do it.”

But busy high school students often learn shows by watching clips on YouTube, said Elizabeth Rathburn, a Hartford parent who’s running the ticket booth. That resource is unavailable, so the workload is a bit heavier.

In an effort to help other schools who might want to perform Homework Eats Dog, the cast and crew will gather on Sunday, after the show closes, to record the play for upload to the web.

“Having it on YouTube will be a lot of fun for the kids,” Haehnel said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.