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Sinfonicron reveals "The Secret Garden"

  • The Secret Garden
    The Secret Garden  The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company is putting on a production of "The Secret Garden." Thomas Brigham ('10) plays Archibald Craven in the musical.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller
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While most of the campus was wrapped in silence at the end of winter break, William & Mary’s Phi Beta Kappa Hall was abuzz with students as they practiced lines, perfected dance moves and constructed a giant tree.

The students were all working to get prepared for the Sinfonicron Light Opera Company’s production of “The Secret Garden,” which opens tonight.

The musical is an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel by the same name. It will be performed in Phi Beta Kappa Hall on Jan. 22, 23, and 24 at 8 p.m. with matinee performances on Jan. 24 and 25 at 2 p.m.

Now in its 44th year, Sinfonicron is a student-run organization at the College that brings a musical-theater production to Williamsburg every winter. Students are in charge of every aspect of the show, including the set design, direction and choreography.

Planning for the show started last summer, and auditions were held in November. Rehearsals started on Jan. 5, and the company has been working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day since.

Dan Plehal, a senior who directed “The Pirates of Penzance” last year, is serving as the director of this production. He said he wanted to make the show very nature-centric.

“I really liked the idea of the spirits being taken up into the earth, so we’ve created a very nature-centric set that the dreamers will be able to appear out of with their costuming and their staging, which I think will be a pretty cool effect,” he said.

Tim Nielsen, the set designer for Sinfonicron, and Michael Ligman, the technical director, started collaborating in September to design and construct the set.

“We have a good working relationship,” said Nielsen of Ligman. “When I design the set, I kind of know how he’s going to go about building it, so we work together a lot to tweak and move things around.”

In order to build the set, create costumes and get everything done in time for opening night, every member of the cast is assigned to various work crews.

“It means that everyone has more of an impact on the final product, and they can feel more ownership of it as a whole as opposed to just one aspect of it,” said Plehal. “It lets students see a lot of aspects they wouldn’t normally get to, especially students who aren’t theater majors or don’t do a lot of productions. Not only do they get to be part of the show, they get to see a lot of technical things they may not normally be exposed to.”

Junior Abigail Stokley is playing Mary Lennox in the production. She said that creating her character has been an on-going process.

“My original ideas for Mary were kind of different that what Marsha Norman had for Mary in her musical, so I had to kind of change her from who I saw Mary as in the book to the musical, which is a much softer interpretation of the girl. Her progression is not quite as drastic,” she said.

Kelsey Meiklejohn, a senior and the choreographer for this production, said she did a lot of research to create the correct moves for the musical. She said that Sinfonicron is a different experience than the William & Mary main stage productions, which are often led by professors.

“I enjoy both a lot. For me, it’s a nice challenge to be able to take on my own responsibilities sort of and take my own dance experiences and my own theater experience and mix them together,” she said. “It’s a fun group of people and we’re all friends with each other so even though I might be teaching you something at some point, you’re still my friend and we still get to have a blast together while I’m teaching it.”

Because preparations for the Sinfonicron productions happens during winter break, it gives many students who may have other obligations during the school year a chance to participate in a College production.

“A significant portion of the cast is from a capella groups on camps,” said Plehall, noting that those groups often have four hours of practice at night every week, which conflict with other productions. “Sinfonicron bridges that gap.”

Senior Lauren Estes serves as the vocal director on the production. She said that the experience that Sinfonicron has given her will be of great value as she looks to work in a similar area after graduation.

“I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned what I do know, I’ve learned what I don’t know. I’ve learned what I can and cannot do yet and what I need to go further with,” she said. “It’s been really valuable to me, and I appreciate the opportunity for it.”

Plehal agreed.

“This is probably the best opportunity that we could receive during our college career,” he said. “Especially since this is my second year directing, having two shows of this magnitude of this production value under my belt on my resume -- not even to say I’ve done them but to know everything I’ve learned from them -- it’s incredibly valuable to have been given this opportunity.”

He added, “I couldn’t really think of any other chance I could have gotten at this school or another-- even going to a conservatory or something like that -- to have such creative control and learn from my own mistakes as I went through this process.”

Tickets for the performances are $15 for adults and $5 for students. They and can be purchased at the PBK box office (757-221-2674), or online at