Prospect High School students add input to original play written by alum

Prospect High School students add input to original play written by alum

One look backstage at Prospect High School offers a curious display of props: a herd of nearly 50 hobbyhorses, each one different from the next, all saddled up and ready to race.

A new play written by Prospect alumna Laura Winters runs Jan. 23-25 at the school and it features the wild and crazy sport of hobbyhorse racing, an actual equestrian sport that is growing in popularity in Finland.

Prospect High School alum Laura Winters, third from left, collaborates with students on the script of "Horse Play," a play she wrote about the sport of hobbyhorse racing. Courtesy of Jeremy Morton/Prospect High School

Winters, who now lives in New York and works as a playwright, says that ever since she saw the play "The Wolves" - a Pulitzer Prize finalist about a girls' high school soccer team - she wanted to combine theater and sports in a play.

"Trying to keep the exciting, live competition in sport, while also finding a sport that lots of people can do with little training, led me to the wonderful and wacky world of hobbyhorse racing," Winters says.

Laura Winters checks out first drafts of hobby horse props and racing partners. Prospect High School will present "Horse Play," a play about the sport of hobbyhorse racing, written by Winters, a Prospect alum. Courtesy of Jeremy Morton/Prospect High School

Called "Horse Play," it revolves around four high school hobbyhorse teams whose rivalries drive them to make the best hobbyhorse competition they can. At stake is the chance to win the first Illinois State Hobby-Horse Regional Championship.

Winters, who won a state title herself in dramatic interpretation, drew the interest of Prospect Fine Arts Director Jeremy Morton nearly two years ago.

"The idea of people running around and jumping using a stuffed horse head on a stick, immediately gave me a visual that I was curious to see on stage," Morton says.

Once he saw a video of Finnish teens competing in traditional equestrian events such as show jumping and dressage, he was hooked.

"These competitors take the sport incredibly seriously," Morton says, "and there is something awesome about that."

Students designed their own hobbyhorses for the upcoming original show "Horse Play" at Prospect High School. These are 48 original pieces created for this premiere. Courtesy of Jeremy Morton/Prospect High School

Developing the new work was a collaboration from start to finish, Winters says. During auditions, she asked students about the qualities they would like to see in their character.

"We intentionally left a lot of room for student input and creativity in the process, and they have taken up the mantle," she says.

"They blocked a good chunk of their shows, they're choreographing their performance pieces, picking songs and coming up with team cheers. It's exhilarating to watch."

Beyond the uniqueness of the sport itself, Winters has created four separate shows within the show for Act 1. Audience members will choose which one of the one-act plays they want to see, allowing them to get immersed in the behind-the-scenes drama of one specific team.

Audience members come together for Act 2, when they watch the four teams compete in the various events, with a different outcome possible each of the three nights.

"Laura is an incredibly gifted individual who has created four shows in the first act that explore multiple conflicts and tales of all of these characters," Morton adds.

Winters practically grew up on stage. Even before she began performing at Lincoln Middle School and Prospect, she appeared in musicals produced by the King's Players, a theater group sponsored by St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect and co-founded by her mother, Jane Winters.

At Prospect, Winters starred in many of its musicals and performed in the marching band, before earning a fine arts degree at Northwestern. During her years in Evanston, she performed on stage, but also studied playwriting and was the head writer of its famed Waa-Mu Show, which produces student works.

Prospect High School students rehearse for "Horse Play." Courtesy of Jeremy Morton/Prospect High School

Now living and working in New York, Winters is busy writing plays and screenplays, especially projects that elevate and affirm women.

Morton adds that "Horse Play" is the first commissioned piece written for Prospect by an alumna. What distinguishes the experience, he says, is the chance for his students to work directly with a playwright in creating and debuting the work.

• • •

"Horse Play"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 23-25

Where: Prospect High School, 801 W. Kensington Road, Mount Prospect

Cost: $8 in advance or $10 at the door; $20 for all three performances

Details: or (847) 718-5200

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