TLHS gets serious with ‘Animal Farm’

Tupper Lake High School students, from left, Nolan Savage, Lowden Pratt, Sophia Martin and Noah Cordes, rehearse George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which they will perform Friday and Saturday night. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

TUPPER LAKE — The students snorted, oinked, brayed, whinnied, and bawed.

The Tupper Lake High School will perform George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” Friday and Saturday.

The 1945 novel in an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It follow a group of farm animals who overthrow their farmer (the Tsar) and take control the farm. The animals want to rid themselves of the old way of life (monarchy) and a adopt a new one (communism). A pig named Snowball (Leon Trotsky) has some good ideas for the future, but all his idealistic values are quickly removed in favor of a much more depressing rule when another pig named Napoleon (Joseph Stalin) declares himself at the top of the new hierarchy.

Like the actual Soviet Union, the farm became communist (or in this case animalist) in name alone. In reality, only those at the very top benefited from the new system of government.

Director George Cordes said he’s been wanting to do a serious play with the students for a while now.

Tupper Lake High School students, from left, Stephanie Fortune (Clover), Saide Johnson (Boxer), and Jonathan McCullouch (Benjamin) rehearse scenes from “Animal Farm,” which they will perform Friday and Saturday night in the high school auditorium. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“We’ve done a lot of comedies and silly stuff in the past,” he said. “Pendragon Theatre (in Saranac Lake) also did another of George Orwell’s works, ‘1984,’ not too long ago, and we were very impressed by that. This show also has a lot of timeless messages. You know, plenty of kids read the book in high school, and that idea of ideals succumbing to human foibles needs to be reiterated again and again.”

Though the cast is made up of pigs, goats, ducks, horses, dogs, sheep and donkeys, the costuming is rather minimal. The audience is supposes to extend its disbelief and focus more on the mannerisms and not how the actors look.

“We’re not making people up to be just animals,” Cordes said. “You won’t see a person walking around in a cow costume or a pig suit. We’re using normal clothing to suggest different animals. There have been many different adaptations of this show with plenty of different approaches in terms of costuming, sets and concept. One may have everybody in suits with a corporate-feel while another will be in an asylum with medical costumes. Our setting mostly looks like a barn yard, but the characters and their costumes exhibit many human qualities.”

After the animals gain power, they install a list of commandments with the most important one being “Four legs good. Two legs bad.” Basically, don’t trust humans. It’d be a little odd to have student-actors crawling around on their hands and knees for the majority of the play, so instead they adopt more animalistic ways of carrying their bodies. The tricky part is acting like animals that are acting like humans. Cordes said physicality is one of the most important part for embodying the characters. The pigs hunch over little and keep their hands close together like a pack of connivers. The pigeons, chickens and ravens bend there arms like wings.

Sophia Martin plays the tyrannical ungulate Napoleon. She curls her hair up into side buns to resemble pig ears.

Tupper Lake High School students, from left, Noah Cordes, Sophia Martin and Nolan Savage rehearse George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which they will perform Friday and Saturday night. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“A lot of it is about curling up and being tense,” she said. “You take smaller steps and hold your hands close to your body. It’s definitely a lot in how you walk an move. You’ve got to snort every once in a while.”

If you go…

What: Animal Farm

Where: Tupper Lake Middle-High School, 25 Chaney Ave.

When: Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.

How much: $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors