“Theater is for everyone.”
It was with this ideal that Kennebunk High School Drama Teacher and Director Marianne Pillsbury approached the spring production of “Into the Woods,” a musical by Stephen Sondheim.
“I wanted to include as many parts of the school as I could for this production,” said Pillsbury, who is in her first year at Kennebunk High School.
“Into the Woods” takes a collection of fairy tales, including favorites such as “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” and turns them on their head.
At the center of it all are the Baker and his wife, on a journey to collect items from the woods to banish a curse and allow them to, finally, have a child of their own. The production opened on March 22 and continued with performances last weekend. The Sunday, March 24 performance was a sensory-friendly performance with a meet-and-greet session afterward.
Performances resume on Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m.
The Kennebunk High School production, directed by Pillsbury and with music direction by Jesse Wakeman. The remainder of the production positions are filled by students, a point of pride for Pillsbury.
To execute such a complex show, laden with set changes and a wide array of props, Pillsbury sent out a call to other areas of expertise within the school to execute her vision.
“We have a really strong STEM program here at Kennebunk High School,” Pillsbury said. “I wanted to include everyone in this show, and they came through with something really cool.”
Pillsbury reached out to STEM teacher Aaron Germana, who teaches a robotics class as well as leads the robotics team at Kennebunk High School. The desire was to have one of the primary props, a hen, be able to move on its own for the project.
Germana, who has been teaching at the high school for 19 years but is in his second year in the STEM department, gave the project to his advanced robotics students. After a month of brainstorming and even more troubleshooting, a robotic hen graces the stage for each performance.
“We had the most fun brainstorming for the hen. We thought about giving it retractable legs, or a really big nest, or to have a way for the eggs to drop out of the hen by themselves,” said freshman Matthew Moore, 15. “We were on a deadline, but what we have works really well.”
The hen, a life size replica of a chicken, sits in a nest on a robotic platform, controlled by a student off-stage with a game controller.
Moore and sophomore Xavier Pettis worked on the robotic hen, trouble shooting to ensure that the hen can run smoothly every night.
“They built a motorized platform, so the hen can be pulled on and off throughout the production,” Germana said.
While the students worked on the hen, the rest of the advanced students worked on a robotic cow to be used during the production, but unfortunately, connectivity issues caused the cow to be scrapped prior to production.
“We really did try to make it work, right up until the end,” Pillsbury said. “We’re so happy that the hen is working so well though.”
Having a hen that moves is a challenge presented in mounting a production of “Into the Woods,” but having a motorized, robotic hen as part of the production has an added layer of fun and whimsy to the production.
“During the sensory friendly performance on March 24, the student controlling the hen was able to make the hen back up as Jack approached it to pick it up, and the crowd loved it,” Pillsbury said.
As for Germana, he is pleased that his students had this opportunity.
“This was our first time partnering with the theater,” Germana said. “We’re hoping the collaboration can continue through more plays and musicals.”
Not only did STEM students have the opportunity to collaborate on this production, but also the Kennebunk High School alternative education and special education programs were included in independent projects to further the production, part of what Pillsbury refers to as “unified theater.”
Students from the special education program contributed by building a central prop for the show, an ever-present tree stump used during many scenes. Students from alternative education used their construction skills to build a directors table for the audience as well as the sign advertising the show near the street.
Students from the art department lent their skills to the sets, which involve beautiful floor-to-ceiling murals of trees to provide the ambiance of being deep in the woods.
“I’m happy to be working in a school with such great resources for collaboration,” said Pillsbury, a South Portland native. “Theater is for everyone who wants to be involved, and we want to provide as many opportunities as possible.”
Performances for “Into the Woods” will resume this weekend with shows on March 29 and 30 at 7 p.m., and a Sunday, March 31 matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door (cash only) or online at www.kpac.booktix.com.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

The Kennebunk High School production of “Into the Woods” required expertise from beyond the players, but called upon the STEM robotics class to create a one-of-a-kind prop, a robotic hen. Above, the actors perform a tense song from Act 2, “Your Fault.” From left, Lily McMahon as Little Red Ridinghood, Sophia Hines as Cinderella, Curtis Morgan as Jack, Isabella Hammond as the Witch and Sam Vaccaro as the Baker. (Abigail Worthing/Courtesy photos)

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