Burr and Burton preps for fall play "Harvey"

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MANCHESTER — Through the Burr and Burton Academy performing arts program, students learn not just how to act, but how to rely upon each other in the common goal of storytelling.

Most recently, students and staff have collaborated on the school's fall production, "Harvey."

"It really is a fun play for high school students to do, because when you dig down underneath the gags and everything, it's a really heartfelt play," said director James Raposa, the school's theater arts director. "It's a good piece of Americana theatre."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, written by Mary Chase, revolves around the affable Elwood P. Dowd, played by senior Koben Pottala, and his six foot, three-inch best friend, a sometimes invisible white rabbit named Harvey.

"I play Elwood P. Dowd, who's the lead in the show, and my sister Vita is trying to admit me because she thinks I have this imaginary friend Harvey," Pottala said. "I do see him, but it's a whole thing of `is he actually there?'"

"I think theatregoers are left to wonder — is he real or not?" Raposa said. "Do we all have this ability to kind of have our lives impacted by maybe seeing something that's not there? It's something that allows us to stop for a minute and think."

Hoping to spare the family from his eccentric behavior, Veta, played by Olivia Saunders, decides to commit Elwood to the local sanatorium, run by Dr. Chumley, played by Garrett Sands. What follows is a fast-paced comedy of errors in the search for Elwood and Harvey, that in the end prove they may be the wisest and empathetic characters of all.

The cast for "Harvey" is rounded out by Zoe Grigsby, Colvin Hathaway, Sophie Jager, Riley Vogel, Miles Allen, Isabelle Lugo-Shapero, Greta Schaub, Daniel Jackson and more than 30 students working backstage on the production and in understudy roles.

"They're a really talented group of young actors who work hard and allow themselves to be directed," Raposa said. "My wife [BBA dance instructor Claudia Shell-Raposa] also had a huge hand in this show, because I needed the help."

Though the play will only run for a limited time, months of work go into the production — for everything from the acting to the costumes and set.

"We rehearse on an average four day a week, three hours every day after school, and we build starting probably two or three weeks after school starts for three hours every day," said Raposa, who begins pre-production work over the school's summer break. "When it's all said and done and the show closes on Nov. 12, on the 13th it'll be like the show never existed."

"This is a difficult show actually, it's deceptively simple," said faculty member Paul Molinelli, who begins work on the set during the summer. "You think of a light comedy, but it really requires two complete sets. We have two interiors that need to change in 30 to 45 seconds."

Molinelli says he and Raposa work closely together to ensure that the set, built primarily by students, reflects the overall tone and theme of the production.

"It's a hard show because it is about a kind of fantastical occurrence, this imaginary rabbit. You have to strive for a certain amount of realism in the set to make that show up," Molinelli said. "If it was a wacky set with a lot of weird angles and colors, the fact that there was an imaginary rabbit might not register as much."

Throughout the process of organizing the production, Burr and Burton faculty members work fastidiously to ensure that students are playing as large of a role as possible.

"The students learn a lot about building and design and frustration, and working on deadlines," Molinelli said. "We ask them to do a lot, and we also have pretty high standards that we try to maintain."

According to Raposa, the close relationship between the play's primary performers and the understudy cast is a prime example of the real-world tone of the program.

"The thing I love about the students I work with is there's no derision towards someone who's your understudy," Raposa said. "They really all support each other, and that's a really important thing that they do that."

"It's a community thing; you do a show or take a class, and everyone who is in that class is just immediately your family," Pottala said. "Juniors and seniors will kind of take all of the freshman and sophomores under their wing if they've never done a show before, and they kind of pass down the tradition."

Burr and Burton Academy's production of "Harvey" will run from Nov. 8 - 11 at 6:30 p.m., at the school's Riley Center for the Arts. Tickets can be purchased at bbatickets.com and are $7 for BBA students, faculty and staff, and $12 for adults.

"I think you're going to laugh. I think you're going to have a great time," Raposa said. "I think it's a great show, with a great message of acceptance, and you don't wanna miss it. You really don't."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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