Middle school thespians explored how Leonardo da Vinci allowed curiosity to spark his intellectual pursuits in the premiere performance of “I Want to Fly” at the Performing Arts Center.
The work bookends a trilogy for playwright and performing arts teacher Mark Silence, who also wrote “Shoes of the Gods,” which explored ancient Greece, and “Triple Trouble,” which served as a nod to William Shakespeare. Each play is written with middle school academia in mind and features a historical focus. Though this was the premiere of “I Want to Fly,” the others have each been produced twice in the last decade by the King Middle School.
It is no mistake that someone so suitable to the school would also be the focus of a play produced by its students. The work bookends a trilogy for playwright and performing arts teacher Mark Silence, who also wrote “Shoes of the Gods,” which explored ancient Greece, and “Triple Trouble,” which served as a nod to William Shakespeare. Each play is written with middle school academia in mind and features a historical focus. Though this was the premiere of “I Want to Fly,” the others have each been produced twice in the last decade by the King Middle School.
“I Want to Fly” takes students on an exploration of Leonardo da Vinci’s life as they work on projects about the genius, in the process, they share his story with the audience. Students play different characters from Leonardo’s life in vignettes throughout the play. There are also a series of improvisational moments where students use their bodies, voices, and imaginations to illustrate the story.
“When we began, I was not sure about the improvisational moments like the ‘clapversation’ that opened the show,” said Darnton. “I had not directed students in such work before. What became clear to me in the rehearsing is that anything which causes students to be physical and connect their bodies to a story is beneficial and fun.”
Staging a work that had never been staged before presented a unique challenge to the actors as they did not have past productions for reference.
“It was a little hard having no reference of what to do with your character, but it made us stronger actors,” said Siena Gambino ’27. “Being the first ever cast to do ‘I Want To Fly' was really interesting. We were able to adjust a lot of the scenes and lines. It was fun overall to build a character from the ground up, and a lot of people had different perspectives on certain characters' personalities.”
Like all King plays, the cast varied with each production allowing students an opportunity to play different roles. Darnton was impressed with how students collaborated as they explored the work.
“Students were not sure about the play in the beginning because it was not like ones they have done before, not being plot-driven and focusing on the life of one person, not on interactions between characters to solve a problem,” she said. “I saw students grow as storytellers. The focus of my work with the students was on ‘What does it mean to tell a strong story?’ and ‘How do I get behind the story, even if it's outside my lived experience?’ They made real progress as storytellers.”
With self-discovery central to the middle school curriculum, the play delivered.
“It was challenging but during the first couple of rehearsals I decided some traits my character would have, then I just brought it to the table,” said Jimi Kulig ’27. “I learned a lot from this play. It was mainly based on improv, so my castmates and I had to get to know each other so the play could really come to life. I think what I learned the most is just taking it slow and getting to know everything that is going on around you.
See the I Want to Fly program with the complete cast list here and view the performances at the links below.