Robert Gray Middle School's fall play 'Alice @ Wonderland' explores a contemporary twist on a classic tale

CONNECTION PHOTO: HANNAH RANK - Robert Gray Middle School drama program eighth-graders Ashley Eddy (left) and Maddie Bradford play the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, respectively, in 'Alice @ Wonderland.' Eddy and Bradford say they enjoyed acting as absurdist characters.
Ever felt lost in a place unfamiliar to you, trying to find your way, when — gasp! — your cellphone signal dies?

For some, losing that connection may not be the end of the world, and teens even 10 years ago might not have understood the horror of a forced detachment from social media. But the cast of Robert Gray Middle school's fall play, performed in early December, can certainly identify with the fear.

"Alice @ Wonderland," written by Jonathan Yukin, takes the classic tale of Lewis Carrol's iconic children's book and adds a contemporary twist: Alice still falls down a rabbit hole and still becomes lost in an absurd, foreign land, but this time she's searching for a cellphone signal that supposedly exists within the garden.

Instead of lamenting modernity's steady transformation of childhood, Director Jules Moorhouse saw the updated take on a classic as an opportunity collaborate, utilizing the budding creativity of the students.

"It's been a little different (from other productions) because they've put so much input into the story as well," Moorhouse said, noting an uptick in students' interest compared with other plays she's directed with the program. "It meets them where they are."

The student-actors contributed ideas for the design of the costumes and set, as well as character development.

CONNECTION PHOTO: HANNAH RANK - Emma Laboe, who played the caterpillar in Robert Gray's production of 'Alice @ Wonderland,' dances enthusiastically during one of the many dance breaks in the show."I feel like the language is more understandable than in the original," said eighth-grader Julia Meyers, who plays one half of the two-person role of the Cheshire Cat. "It's more modern and does relate to a modern audience."

The play is filled with modern tidbits. Two of the chorus members actually embody smartphone and computer screens, berating Alice before she loses her signal with an endless slew of internet jargon and social notifications. (The term 'hashtag,' for example, makes multiple appearances.) Every time a character said "Wonderland," the entire cast broke into dance, contemporary hits blaring over the speakers.

But the characters in Wonderland have no need for modern considerations. Throughout her toilsome journey, Alice attempts to explain to them the usefulness of technology, yet to no avail; her reasoning doesn't fit into their absurdist world view.

"I don't care for him or his engine," the Mad Hatter croaks at one point, referring to the Google search engine.

Though the play basks in its modern influences, Moorhouse hoped the audience relished in the power of the human imagination when the screen turns off. CONNECTION PHOTO: HANNAH RANK - Hyacinth Fick (left) comforts Abbi Biggs, who plays Alice and worries she'll never find her way out of Wonderland and back into cellphone range.

"We don't always need a computer and a cellphone to just have our imagination go wild," Moorhouse said.

Moorhouse has seen a steady growth in the drama program since taking the helm seven years ago. The size of the production of "Alice @ Wonderland" is unprecedented, with 84 actors and 34 crewmembers.

Still, Moorhouse does not cut students who try out and has even had to create new roles to accommodate every actor, parts she calls "inserts."

Despite the size of the cast, many actors remarked on how close-knit the production felt. Some of the graduating students noted how they appreciated getting to know new faces before their departure next fall.

"I didn't realize how strong the bonds were made in this play until near the end; I thought, 'Wow, I'm talking to people I never thought I would talk to or even knew went to this school," said Maddie Bradford, an eighth-grader who played the Mad Hatter. "I've just made so many friends since then and I'm glad I know them."

Contact Hannah Rank at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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