The theater at Durango High School was abuzz with activity Wednesday afternoon as the students from Troupe 1096 were putting the finishing touches on the set and their performances for their upcoming production of “The Hobbit,” which will open next week.
From the sounds of musicians practicing their instruments to the smell of paint and the sight of the stage crew working on a massive dragon and puppets (7 feet tall once attached to a person), it’s clear that the epic nature of the show will be matched only by the epic amount of work and time the kids are putting into the play.
“The Hobbit” is the classic story by J.R.R. Tolkien that introduces readers and audiences to the fantasy world of Middle Earth and reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins, who takes the audience on an magical adventure. When Baggins is asked to leave his home to search for treasure, he encounters many obstacles along the way, including the dragon Smaug.
Baggins is played by sophomore Luca Sandoval-McCallum, who is in his second year as a troupe member.
“I’m going to be honest – this is the hardest show I’ve ever done because this is the show that has made me go into my character the most,” he said. “This show is very epic, in my opinion. I think it’s coming together, and I love what we’ve done with the set here. I think it’s going to be a really good time.”
Sandoval-McCallum said that the challenges of playing such a large role – he’s in just about every scene – can be broken into surface: learning almost two hours’ worth of lines, and deeper: “I’d say fully embracing Bilbo Baggins. It’s been fun; it’s been hard, too.”
And no production of “The Hobbit” would be complete without Gandalf, played here by freshman Arii Crowl in his debut with the troupe.
He said for him, the fun of being in the play outweighs the difficulties.
“There’s a lot of lines, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I have a lot of lines, and a lot of the ways that Gandalf speaks, he’s very roundabout and doesn’t always get to the point immediately, so it’s hard to get into that speech pattern. But he’s just a really fun character to play. And my fellow actors are a lot of fun to interact with – rehearsal is definitely the best part, a lot of fun.”
With this production, the set itself can also almost be considered a cast member, courtesy of the students working tech and carpentry – and puppetry.
Enter Zada Lile, a junior who is both playing in the ensemble and puppeteering the Smaug dragon. She’s also one of the people responsible for designing the puppets, which includes Smaug, the three large trolls and two spiders.
Evie Powell, a junior, is one of the troupe’s student tech director, master carpenter and stage manager. It’s a large role – in fact, it’s a role she’s been working up to since her freshman year.
“It’s a lot of organization – making sure all the actors are where they’re supposed to be at certain times, and keeping track of breaks during rehearsal. I sometimes start them with a warm-up game until the directors are ready to work with them,” she said. “With technical director, it’s me and two other people, we rotate around ... it is really fun; it’s definitely a lot more fun than it is hard and stressful.”
Powell views her work and the work of the other students in the troupe from a large lens: She said she enjoys watching the productions go from concept to the final show.
“I really enjoy watching everything, I like watching the rehearsals,” she said. “Also, it’s cool seeing how everything being built from this concept ... and seeing it turn into a physical thing we can watch and hear.”
It’s a level of collaboration among directors and actors that makes the show work as well as it does, said junior Donovan Dalton, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves.
Dalton said that for him, the most difficult part of “The Hobbit” is the stagework, but that’s what makes being in the show fun.
“Physically, yes, it’s very challenging, but in a fun way,” he said. “The most challenging aspect is, initially, it was our big goblin fight scene – everyone has their own part ... it was really challenging because it was really testing everyone’s creative ability with their own little fight, but it came togther beautifully.”
He said the directors gave the actors a lot of creative leeway when it came to choreographing the production’s fight scenes. Actors were given 15 minutes to create their individual fights, with the idea of what the end result of the fight should be.
“My favorite part is the Smaug fight scene where we fight the dragon Smaug ... he’s pretty big and bad,” Dalton said. “That’s my favorite part because it’s kind of like a culmination of every single dwarf character; they’re coming into their true warrior selves, and a lot of sacrifices are made.”
Bilbo Baggins: Luca Sandoval-McCallum
Gandalf: Arii Crowl
Gollum: Daniel Leister
Dwalin: Angel Safari
Balin: Rhen Bard
Kili: Valentine Kuntz
Fili: Sophia Valdez
Dori: Destry Quinn
Nori: Isabelle Selah
Ori: Giada Gierhart
Oin: Trina Franken
Gloin: Cecil Hutt
Groin: William Reynolds
Bifur: Grace McCrady
Bofur: Savannah Rickerman
Bombur: Sam Bishop
Thorin: Donovan Dalton
Grocery Boy: Kemper Hermesman
Bert: Andrew Kolakowski
Essie: Kate Graybeal
Tom: Audrey Tippin
The Great Goblin: Liam Morris
Attendant Goblin: Adriana Rochat
The Elvin Queen: Jayla Cataldi
Smaug: Nathan Greer
Elf Guards: Tiana Batiste, Violet McFarlane
Ensemble: Noah Oury, Avery Edgar, Eric Peterson, Sora Pearson, Sofia Gutierrez, Sadie Hanson, Zada Lile, Ava Allen, Angel Safari, Gillian Reynolds and Judah Azulai.
And for Powell, all of the work and dedication of all of the actors and crew in Troupe 1096 serve a bigger purpose.
“I really am in love with stories in general,” she said. “It’s just really cool to share stories, and these scripts and these books were written for a reason; they want us to show a message. For ‘The Hobbit,’ I think the one thing that really comes out for me is the story is the friendship and camaraderie that is built and it’s also just a silly little journey. And it’s also kind of a break from everything that’s been going on in the world.”