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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

North Branch School annual student-written production explores love, deception and goats

<p>A still from the North Branch School Production.</p>

A still from the North Branch School Production.

The North Branch School in Ripton will put on its annual student-created theater production this Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15, at the Ripton Community House. This year’s show, titled “All’s Fair In Love and Business,” was written and will be performed by 26 students that all attend the school. 

According to Tal Birdsey ’87, head teacher at the North Branch School, the play is a celebration of the school and the community it fosters.

“The play serves to build camaraderie and togetherness after a long year of learning together,” Birdsey told The Campus by email. “The winter is over, the sun is out, and we have a play to present to the world.”

The students began working on developing the play in January, spending class time tossing around ideas, writing scenes and experimenting with themes, Birdsey wrote. “I suggest ideas, give them advice when they seem to be heading down a dead-end, encourage ideas that are possibly fruitful,” he added.

From there, Birdsey and the students spent the next six weeks in the school basement rehearsing in a small space that they configured into a makeshift stage. “We add, subtract, re-write, start over, and try to refine it until ‘play week,’ when we spend most of the week in the Ripton Community House,” Birdsey wrote. 

Last year’s show was about a group of sad orphans in a town called “Little Hope.” It explored the process of finding renewed hope, Birdsey said, through the students’ personal experiences with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This year’s “All’s Fair in Love and Business” builds on the plot of last year’s production, starting with characters who have left “Little Hope” for the town of “Centerville,” where a large wedding is set to take place. Two con-men arrive in Centerville and try to set couples up arbitrarily so that they can make money from planning the weddings. Chaos soon ensues as the bride and groom’s families turn on each other, the couples’ relationships fall apart, the wedding is called off and wedding guests flee to a safe community called “Goatopia,” for goats and the pure of heart. 

“It is part comedy, part serious, an amalgam of SNL, Monty Python (with an adolescent spin), mixed with poetry and the attempt to define what true love is,” Birdsey wrote to The Campus. 

All 26 students at the school are involved with a variety of roles in the production, Birdsey added, including coming up with ideas, characters, plot lines, assembling props, costumes and stage managing. The production also includes music between each scene, which is performed by the students. 

An independent school for kids in grades seven to nine, the North Branch School was co-founded by Birdsey and a group of local Ripton parents in 2001. Birdsey, a 1987 graduate of Middlebury College and 1993 graduate of the Bread Loaf School of English, said he and the other three teachers at the school all do more than one thing — he teaches literature, writing, history, art, theater, soccer and wiffleball, and he serves as the de facto school counselor. 

According to the school’s website, its mission is to create a small school environment that is focused on the needs of early adolescents.

“The founding philosophy is centered on a school concept that promotes self-directed and active learning, incorporates students’ emotional, intellectual and growth issues, emphasizes experiential and outdoor education, and fosters a strong community based upon close student-teacher-parent relationships,” the website reads. 

Birdsey wrote that the school began doing the annual play in 2003, when the whole student body came to him with a signed petition that said, “We the undersigned students demand that we have a theatrical production. If Headmaster Tal Birdsey does not heed our demands, we will attack him with a pitchfork wielding mob.” 

Siblings, relatives, neighbors, alumni and other community members all typically come out for the North Branch School shows, according to Birdsey.

“It’s a real celebration of the school,” he added.

“All’s Fair In Love and Business” will run this Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ripton Community House. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $10, and $3 from each ticket will be donated to a children’s relief fund in Ukraine.

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Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 is the Senior Local Editor. 

She previously served as Local Editor and Staff Writer. Maggie spent this past summer in Vermont, covering arts & culture for Seven Days VT. She also interned as a news reporter with the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY during summer 2021. 

Maggie is studying History with minors in Spanish and Political Science. She is also a member of the Women's Swimming & Diving team.