So wrong it’s right
North Country School puts on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’
LAKE PLACID — At the final dress rehearsal for the North Country School’s fall play Wednesday, Nov. 15, a door fell off its hinges, actors forgot props backstage, a rogue spotlight continuously missed its mark and two actresses were knocked unconscious. It was all going according to plan.
“The (One-Act) Play That Goes Wrong” — shown for one night only on Friday, Nov. 17 — is exactly what it sounds like: an hourlong play-within-a-play where six hapless actors and two flustered technicians set off a Rube Goldberg machine-like series of disasters. Each North Country student performer technically plays two characters — the “actor” and the murder-mystery character whom the actor plays. Likewise, the program has two cast lists — one for the NCS’s production, and one for the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” which is the play that goes wrong.
“This play’s really hard,” said Courtney Allen, theater teacher at NCS and the play’s director. “It seems so simple, but it’s really hard to actually do so many things wrong at the right time and have the lines and the things on the set that go wrong and all of the different details. … It’s been wonderful to have a group of students that are able to take this on.”
Allen started using clips of the “Goes Wrong” plays — “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” — a few years ago to help students get over anxiety about their own shows going wrong.
“I started using that as a thing to show excerpts from to students when they were nervous about things going wrong right before a show as a ‘See? Things can go wrong, and that’s okay and we keep going.’ Just kind of an extreme version of it to laugh at before we did shows,” Allen said.
Soon, enough students were familiar with the show to make it a natural choice for the fall play.
“I thought it was really cool. I was excited to see how we’re going to do all of the stuff that goes wrong,” said Ian Wei, a ninth grader who plays Chris Bean (who plays Inspector Carter).
The play was a way for some students to make new friends while tackling a challenge together.
“A lot of the cast are new this year, including me,” said Julia L., an eighth grader who plays Annie Twilloil, the stage manager. “So getting to know everyone and getting confidence around them was the first part. And then getting used to when things had to go wrong and to know our lines and when we had to interrupt and when we had to act that we didn’t know what was going to happen, that was in the past two to three weeks.”
There is plenty that goes wrong throughout the show, and the students have their favorite mishaps.
“One of my favorites is the part where the script loops because Dennis keeps forgetting that there’s another line with the same cue, and we did it five times, I think,” Wei said. “I like how I could slowly get more and more frustrated with him.”
“I really like when a lot of actors drink the water and spit it out. It’s like supposed to be gross and rubbing alcohol or something,” Julia L. said. “One of my favorite parts that goes wrong is when I faint. I really enjoyed learning how to do that. We had someone come and teach us how to do stage combat which was really fun and learning how to do that and fighting and everything was really fun.”
Some of the play’s gags — including various set pieces falling down or apart — could not have happened without NCS’s upgraded theater facility.
The Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center, known as the WallyPAC was completed in 2019. The center was named after a former NCS student who died in 2014 at age 19. A plaque outside of the auditorium says that Breeman was a student who hated going to school until he came to NCS, where he learned to play guitar and got involved in the stagecraft program.
Following his death, Breeman’s parents kickstarted a fundraiser to build the $6.2 million performance space, which rivals many professional and collegiate facilities. The theater includes a fully-equipped scene shop, where industrial arts and stagecraft teacher Larry Robjent helps students build sets and sculptures for shows, and a programmable LED light grid.
“What’s really been amazing is that we just have this space dedicated for these performances, so we get to play with stuff that’s just absolutely amazing,” Allen said. “For a middle school to just be able to have this in our backyard is so, so outstanding. The kids running the light and sound, they’re just doing that themselves. We have an insane setup.”
The students feel the benefits of performing, too.
“It’s a really good skill to learn,” Julia L. said. “How to do public speaking is such a useful thing that a lot of people don’t realize, and doing plays really helps you with that because you get to interact with a lot of people and you’re not in it alone. It’s a lot easier than giving a speech because others can help you, and it’s something that really helps you in your day-to-day life.”