Robin Hood' takes family theater to new heights - literally

The Serenbe forest becomes a stage with zip lines and overhead sets

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Tucked in the lush woodland of the Serenbe living community, Serenbe Playhouse has been preparing to revive the classic tale of Robin Hood for family audiences. Remaining true to Serenbe's commitment to natural living and environmental engagement, Robin Hood will take flight among the stately scenery of towering trees and winding creeks as Robin and his Merry Men (and women) carry out their shenanigans on overhead platforms, bridges, and zip lines.

Serenbe's playwright in (long-distance) residence Rachel Teagle and director Paul McGill present a newly adapted script that reaches beyond interpretations, such as the popular 1973 animated Disney film, and resurrects elements of folklore surrounding clouded origins of the legend of Robin Hood. Teagle explains that there is much speculation as to who, historically, Robin Hood was. "In the end," she tells CL. "I wasn't as interested in knowing who historically Robin Hood was, but in knowing what that story means to people over time."

Serenbe's 2017-18 season, revolving around the theme of "rebellion," includes productions of Macbeth and Cabaret, followed by their annual Sleepy Hollow Experience and traditional holiday special The Snow Queen. While The Snow Queen is suitable for all ages, Serenbe Playhouse only features one children's show a season. This season's Robin Hood fits the season's theme, as Robin Hood and his crew steal from the rich to give to the poor, finding love and lasting friendships along the way.

The cast is full of fresh faces, featuring the premier performances of Serenbe's 2017-2018 Apprentice Company. The recent college graduates are living full time at Serenbe, learning and acting alongside seasoned actors and theater professionals. After arriving at Serenbe, the group had only three days to get settled before jumping into the production of Robin Hood. This season's apprentices hail from all over: Jordan Patrick (Robin Hood), an acting apprentice, graduated from Wisconsin's Carthage College in May, where he studied theater performance, and has performed in Italy, China and Scotland. The technical crew also includes some apprentices, including stage management apprentice Donna Warfield, who graduated from Cornell College in 2016 with a B.A. in theater.

While the cast is making its Serenbe debut, Teagle is no stranger to Serenbe's innovative outdoor style. She has been writing for the Playhouse since its second season in 2011, adapting the scripts of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Velveteen Rabbit, among others. For the Robin Hood script, Teagle delved into the ballads and lore surrounding the legend of Robin Hood, most notably Howard Pyle's 1883 children's novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, and carefully considered nature's role in the play's impact. "You're competing with nature and you're never gonna beat it," she says, "so how do you write something that elevates itself to fit into this world? Because all of your words need to be big enough to make these trees stand out.?۝

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Teagle's script allows McGill room to incorporate the natural surroundings into his direction. In addition to soaring overhead on zip lines, the cast mounts platforms built around the trees, clash weapons on a suspended bridge, and enter and exit through forest foot paths. The script embraces not only nature's elements, but also the wide array of ages that it hopes to attract. Kendra Johnson, who plays the role of Scarlet Will, a female member of the Merry Men, sees Teagle's adaptation as a dynamic and applicable tale. "It created a story that also can be applied to today, as well. You know, something that even kids as young as two or one can understand: justice and doing the right thing.?۝

Before the gang glides nimbly through the trees on their zip lines, visitors will have a chance to experience the fun for themselves. Per Serenbe Playhouse tradition, guests will be greeted with games, such as target practice and an obstacle course, to give them a glimpse into the antics of Sherwood Forest's most infamous residents. For those seeking a little extra excitement, adult beverages and drinks for the kiddies will be available for sale before the show. You may even bump into Sheriff Nottingham or one of the Merry Men on your way to your seat.

The lessons the residents of Sherwood Forest are not only offering an experience for children. The themes and lessons of the play touch on important ideas for the grown-ups, as well. Madison Welch (Captain of the Guard) sees value in the play for all ages. "The adults can see the politics, but the kids will see that everybody matters, everybody is a person." As Robin Hood and his motley crew terrorize the wealthy class and seek to close the wealth gap for the poorest of people, the audience will be pressed to consider the value of justice and friendship, as well as the complexities of ownership.

$10-$20. Fri.-Sun., June 2- Aug. 13. Fri. and Sat.., 11 a.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Farmer's Market Hideaway at Serenbe, 8455 Atlanta Newnan Road, Chattahoochee Hills. 770-463-1110. www.serenbeplayhouse.com.

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