‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ will become the first outdoor theater experience offered in Lakewood Ranch.
Sometimes everyone needs a little spook.
And there’s something about a tale of a headless horseman told outside as the light starts to disappear from an October sky that makes it all the more effective.
That’s the mindset of the team behind The Players Centre for Performing Arts’ upcoming production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on Oct. 27 and 28 at the Sarasota Polo Club.
“Rarely do we get the opportunity to do this classic of a piece that’s for a specific time of year or season,” says Artistic Director Jeffery Kin. “It had the right amount of humor — not too scary. We’re not producing a Jigsaw mass-murder show.”
The idea to do an outdoor production of “Sleepy Hollow” came to fruition when Kin and his team were brainstorming ways to build their audience in Lakewood Ranch.
In May 2016, The Players announced it will build a $30 million theater complex in the new community of Waterside at Lakewood Ranch, but as Kin says, many residents in the area still don’t know much about the theater.
The polo grounds show was spearheaded by Monaca Onstad, director of community relations for Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. The location proved to be perfect — ample performance space, lighting, parking, etc.
But sound became an issue. Kin had to make sure his actors were going to be heard.
The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund gave the Players a $10,000 donation to buy its own sound system when it became clear that Theatre in the Field could become a series.
Next, they had to decide what version of Washington Irving’s story they wanted to perform.
Kin and Director Sara Logan read about a dozen “Sleepy Hollow” scripts before settling on the one audiences will see in Lakewood Ranch for the first outdoor live theater production in that community.
“In this one, the narration is almost done by spirits and ghosts,” Kin says. “We wanted it to be a little more authentic towards fall.”
Appealing to all ages, this version of the tale has both comedic and spooky elements so parents can bring the whole family.
The story centers on Ichabod Crane, a somewhat goofy schoolmaster who just moved to town and is on the prowl for a well-off wife. He’s out of luck, however, because not only is the woman he wants taken, the local graveyard is haunted by the headless horsemen.
Crane is played by Anthony Spall, who was approached by Logan and Kin when they decided he would be the perfect fit.
“This character is different,” Spall says. “A little more exaggerated, a little bit wackier. I had to shake out a little bit of that initial embarrassment when I first had to be goofy.”
Spall is used to playing more sympathetic characters, he says, and getting in the mindset of Crane was one of the challenges he faced in preparing.
Another challenge that affected the 15-person cast of child and adult actors was the abbreviated rehearsal schedule. Because of Hurricane Irma, the rehearsal period was shortened to three weeks instead of the usual five weeks.
They won’t get the chance to perform at the polo grounds until shortly before the premiere. Logan set up a simplified blocking plan and marked the rehearsal space with the approximate size of the actual stage so the actors have an idea of how much space they have.
“It’s working in a new venue, being the first to produce a play in this venue,” Logan says of what excites her about this opportunity. “And participating with a new audience, so hopefully we’ll get some new faces.”
Spall is excited to provide a new audience with the spooky experience that’s appropriate for Halloween season.
“The reason why we tell ghost stories in general is that it’s kind of funny to laugh at our fears,” he says. “I think that’s really cathartic and healthy.”