In the director's chair: Former Freeport High School student follows in teacher's footsteps
FREEPORT — Simon Skold, a 2006 graduate of Freeport High School, will make his directorial debut on Nov. 7 when the school's production of "The Boys from Syracuse" opens a four-show run.
He's got big shoes to fill.
Beth Paterson, who retired at the end of last school year, directed Freeport High School's theatrical productions for the past 31 years.
"Beth is sort of a legend," Skold said. "She loved what she did so much, we all kind of absorbed that from her."
Now Skold, an energetic and charismatic young director, is passing his love of theater on to a new generation of students, 10 years after Paterson first directed him on stage.
"We were all excited and anxious to have a new director this year," said senior Molly Brown, who plays the role of Adriana in the upcoming show. "He brings a lot of fun to this."
Paterson, who recently moved to Montgomery, Texas, to look after her parents, said she has fond memories of working with Skold when he was a student.
"He was always extremely enthusiastic," Paterson, who also taught Latin and French throughout her career, said in a telephone interview. "Really bright. Talented both musically and as an actor. He really loved challenges."
After graduating from Freeport High, Skold studied theater at the University of Southern Maine. He finished in 2011 and spent much of the following year abroad, teaching English in the Middle East, "expanding my horizons and going on some adventures," he said.
Paterson was thrilled when she heard he'd been chosen as her replacement.
"I jumped for joy," she said. "I think he'll bring great intelligence, enthusiasm and sensitivity to the students. And he'll bring new blood and new ideas and new resources into the program."
"The Boys from Syracuse" is a 1938 play by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, who is better known for his later work with Oscar Hammerstein II. Set in ancient Greece, it tells the farcical story of two sets of identical twins separated at birth. It's based on Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors," which in turn was modeled on a work called "Menaechmi" by the Roman playwright Plautus.
"Coming off Beth's legacy, I wanted to do a show that people weren't necessarily familiar with," Skold said. "Part of that was to avoid expectation. I wanted people to come and be surprised by something they hadn't seen before.
"The show is a lot of fun, it's a comedy. So going through the scenes, we're laughing together, we're exploring together."
As a first-time director, Skold said one of the challenges has been working with students on their dance routines.
"Most people have sung in the shower, or church, or in a school chorus, and singing is a little bit more of a natural thing that we do," he said. "We use our voice a lot. But we don't necessarily move our bodies like dancers a lot in everyday life. And so, working on some of the dances, teaching them, encouraging students to open up and move their bodies in ways they're not necessarily comfortable, has been a fun challenge."
Skold said Paterson taught him the importance of inclusiveness in high school theater. He has borrowed her technique of editing scripts to give more students lines. He's also recruited athletes and students who haven't previously been involved with theater. And he's adamant that there's a place for any student who expresses interest, be it on stage, backstage, building props or sewing costumes.
He also learned from Paterson to embrace the process of creating a show.
"I really want a great show, I want the kids to be proud of what they've done on stage, and I want it to be a polished performance that people can really enjoy," he said. "But it's not just a means to an end. Part of the process is expanding our characters and expanding ourselves."
So far the students seem to be buying into Skold and his process. At a rehearsal last week, they were focused, but having fun. They laughed between every take. During a number called "Oh, Diogenes!" they appreciated the choreography, which includes a nod to Beyonce's dance from her "Single Ladies" music video.
Skold was onstage dancing along with them. Apparently, that's not uncommon.
"The other day we were working on a scene about the courtesans, which are basically ancient prostitutes," said senior Ethan Whited, who plays Antipholus of Syracuse. "He was telling them how to act, but it wasn't working. He finally got up on stage and did it himself."
"They have a better idea how much sass to put into it now," he said.
Students last week were effusive in their praise of Paterson, but they were clearly excited to be working with someone just a few years removed from high school.
"He remembers what it's like to do high school theater," Brown said. "He knows where we can grow and what our limits are. It's nice to work with someone who understands us pretty well."
Whited plans to pursue culinary management in college, but he said that after working with Skold, he couldn't give up acting entirely.
"Simon's gotten me to come out of my shell a little bit," he said. "I almost feel obligated to stick with it, one way or another. I'll find some way, somehow, to remain a part of it."