It has been a year since Cape Hatteras Secondary School (CHSS) alumni Blake Taft helped launch a revitalized theater program for his hometown school, and in the past 12 months, the CHSS Drama Club has already celebrated a long list of accomplishments.
Now, the drama club has stepped up its game yet again with an upcoming production of a lesser-known but enchanting new production, Peter and the Starcatcher, which will be hitting the CHSS stage on December 1-3.
“We’re really excited about this new show,” said Taft. “A lot of people have never heard of it, but it was a big deal on Broadway, and it’s adapted from a novel that tells the origin story of Peter Pan.”
“It’s a play with musical numbers – not necessarily a musical,” he added. “We were specific in choosing a show like this, because we wanted to focus on doing something different with the kids. We did two musicals last year, and they were amazing, but we wanted to give them a chance to create a character, and to create a whole world. And that’s what they’ve done.”
When Taft first took the reins of the drama club in the fall of 2022, alongside co-directors Jordan Tomberlin and Michelle Reider O’Brien, CHSS’ theater program had unintentionally fallen by the wayside. Hurricane Dorian in 2019 caused severe damage to the school, forcing it to operate in survival mode, and then the Coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021, which put a lengthy pause on extracurricular activities and new initiatives.
But 2022 ushered in a new beginning for the program, and in 12 short months, the enthusiasm and support surrounding the CHSS Drama Club has exceeded all expectations.
“We’ve had amazing community support,” said Taft. “I’ve never seen a community like this one – really engaging with us, and supporting us in every aspect. It makes doing theater here easier, because everyone is so helpful.”
There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes assistance for this latest production. The drama club recently received a donation of 3,000 costumes from a former costume designer and now Hatteras Island resident, and as in previous productions, the carpentry classes headed by Coach Keith Durham have spent weeks crafting intricate sets.
In addition, when it comes to the kids participating in both the show itself and the behind-the-scenes technical work, Taft and Tomberlin have an eager crowd of students who are dedicated to the show’s success in every way.
“We now have 50 students involved, between backstage and onstage [roles],” said Taft. “When we first started, we had about 20-25 kids, so we’ve really grown… I’d say about a third of the school is involved in this show.”
Rehearsals for Peter and the Starcatcher began in mid-September, and the weeks of preparation were necessary due to the many challenging aspects of the show, both backstage and on stage.
The show has musical numbers, intricate choreography, and even sword fighting – a first for the CHSS Drama Club – with a cast of 26 students ranging from 6th grade to high school seniors. “We were so fortunate that we had an eager group of students who wanted to be involved in theater this year, so we were able to expand the cast and build out the show,” said Taft. “There are some new faces, and some familiar faces from last year, and it’s an amazingly talented group… I think audiences will see this and will be very impressed that some of the kids in this are 12 years old.”
Behind the scenes, students have been creating a fantastical world for young Peter Pan and his colleagues, with lighting, sound, and special effects including fog and a booming thunderstorm with flashing lights.
“We have created a production that rivals a professional theater company,” said Taft. “It really is amazing.”
Taft would know how this latest production stacks up against professional shows, as well. As a theater graduate from George Mason University, he returned home after earning his degree to share his in-depth knowledge with his Hatteras Island community. “There is so much to learn outside of the craft of acting, and the kids have been so engaged,” he said. “We have really built this program out, considering we’re one year into the program, and we love that the kids want to be involved… If we do any more, we’ll need a bigger theater, but that’s a great problem to have.”
All of this year-long momentum has led to an upcoming show that’s not just a high school play for parents and families, but a show that is turning into a community event. With stellar production values, great acting, and a great story as the backbone, the CHSS Drama Club is bringing a professional-level show to Hatteras Islanders.
“It’s not an everyday high school play,” said Taft. “We took a lot of time to create a world, and we spent a lot of energy on production quality. My goal is that people will watch it and won’t realize that there are kids on stage – and our kids are so talented, and so good, that you will definitely forget it’s a high school production.
“If you don’t know a single person in the [drama club] company and you’re in town, it’s going to be a great thing to see,” he added. “It’s culture, and it’s like watching a movie but better, because it’s live. We get to escape everyday life for a moment, and we get to immerse ourselves into this world, and that’s what theater is all about…
“We want everyone to come out. It’s not just for the parents, or the kids – it’s for everyone. If you’re here for the week and want something fun to do, come to the theater. It’s open to the public for a reason – We want everyone to experience it.”
How to catch the show
- Tickets are $10 each and are currently for sale at the front office of CHSS, the United Bank in Buxton, and at The Froggy Dog Restaurant in Avon. Proceeds go to support the CHSS Drama Club.
- Peter and the Starcatcher will be performed on Friday, December 1 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, December 2 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 3 at 2:00 p.m.