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Valley Parents: Mascoma keeps momentum going with theater production

  • Chris Ouellette looks into the mouth of Smaug the dragon, played by Tallis Diehn, 17, of Enfield, while waiting in the wings during a rehearsal of "The Hobbit" at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in West Canaan, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 2/12/2021 11:02:28 AM
Modified: 2/12/2021 11:02:26 AM

WEST CANAAN — After David Wilson retired a couple of years ago as the drama and music director at Mascoma Valley Regional High School following two decades at the school, there were a lot of questions about how his successors would run the programs.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March and there were even more questions.

English teacher Skip Chalker and social studies teacher John Sweetland took over the direction of the Mascoma Players. Though not the easiest of circumstances, they had both been at Mascoma as teachers and had helped with the drama program. Chalker is also a published playwright.

“One of the things about this pandemic is that we were afraid how it was going to affect well-established things and how much damage was going to be done,” Chalker said. “We really didn’t want to tell students that there wasn’t going to be a fall show.”

Chalker’s two published plays followed two police characters in what Chalker deemed “Christmas plays.” He had recently written a new play about the duo called Inspector Snow and Toto, Too, placing his characters in L. Frank Baum’s world of Oz to solve a crime. But because of the pandemic, the Mascoma Players would not be able to perform in front of an audience in their recently built auditorium.

They turned to Mascoma custodian and filmmaker Seth Marrotte, who had experience making movies and was taking cinematography classes.

Chalker reworked the script, Sweetland organized the project and Marrotte helped the students in filming and editing.

“It’s important to keep the momentum of the program going during the pandemic,” Sweetland said. “This was a good solution for everybody.”

Amy Morse is Mascoma High’s new director of music, overseeing both the band and chorus. Morse, who’s taught chorus and band for more than 20 years, said it’s been a difficult year for educators who have had to relearn their trade in light of the pandemic.

“I can’t tell you I’ll know what anyone looks like without a mask on, which makes me laugh a little bit,” she said. “It’s normal for there to be a bit of getting used to a new school situation, but it’s more intensified by being in the middle of this really unusual year.”

At the beginning of the school year, Morse had started a pep band to play at football games, a new endeavor for Mascoma band students. The choir was also slated to join them for the national anthem. After a month and a half of practice, however, they were unable to perform. This has not prevented Morse from continuing to push for music education in whatever form it has to be in — whether that’s impromptu band rehearsals or solo work for choir students.

“It’s really enjoyable for kids because it is a break in what has been really chaotic,” Morse said, adding that music is important for students, even when there’s not pandemic going on.

“Music provides an outlet for so many people and so many kids.”

Historically, Wilson had overseen the big spring musical production and the drama and music departments. For this year’s spring musical, Chalker, Sweetland, Marrotte and Morse will combine their creative forces to put on a revue, connected by a story arc written again by Chalker, produced by Sweetland, filmed by Marrotte and scored by Morse.

Along with music showcased by students, there will be original lyrics penned by Chalker and put to music by Morse.

Because they will not be able to perform in front of a live audience, the spring musical process has been changed slightly in order to foster teamwork, Sweetland noted. Students were given masks to decorate for their auditions and asked to connect their song choice to their design. They’ll also take on roles in the production process that may be new to them.

Traditionally, students who work on large productions each have a specific role whether it be in acting, stage management, props or working the front of the house. During the pandemic, those tasks will be combined. Pre-pandemic, that would have been unheard of and it’s providing kids with more opportunities in the theater.

“Some kids are going to be on stage and some are not, but they’re all going to be doing sets, they’re all going to be doing props, they’re all going to be doing costumes to try to make it into something that they’re taking ownership of all the pieces,” Sweetland said. “Given the remoteness of life and school, the more ways we can make kids a part of the community, the better it is.”

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