The classic story “Anne of Green Gables” has been transformed into a modern tale by playwright and teacher Chelsea Petty. The play, now titled “Andi of Green Gables” will be brought to life by 30 Columbus Middle School students today at 7 p.m. at the CMS theatre.
The original story, written in 1908, is about a young orphan girl who is sent to a farm where her new caretakers had intended to adopt a boy to help them. The story follows Anne’s journey and how she makes her home in her new school, town and family.
Petty has modernized the tale and Anne has become Andi, a current-day teen who has been bounced around the foster home system her entire life. She lands at Green Gables Diner, a small restaurant in the South that is owned by siblings who also intended to foster a boy. In addition to life at the diner, Andi lands in middle school, and deals with mean girls, teachers, and boys.
Andi Parks is played by CMS newcomer, twelve-year-old Kayla Hairston. “She’s an amazing actress, especially for her age,” said Petty, who is the play’s director. “Andi is very different from Kayla and she’s had to work extremely hard to understand the things Andi’s been through and does. The role is by far the largest any student has ever played at our school, and I couldn’t be prouder of her dedication and performance.”
Matty and Miranda (played by CMS Drama natives Tenesha Washington and Tre’ Womack) are the brother and sister who take on the task of raising her.
“Matty’s afraid of all women, except for his sister, and Miranda is bitter and strict. They know nothing about raising children and make many mistakes, but what parent doesn’t? I think parents learn about as much from their children as their children do from them,” said Petty. “Each character deals with things the best way they know how and sometimes the results are pretty funny.”
One of the major conflicts for Andi is her rivalry with a popular boy at school, Davis Montgomery. Davis and Andi get off to a bad start on the first day they meet and he spends years trying to make it up to her. Davis is played by Dante Harris, another student who is no stranger to the CMS stage.
“He’s funny and plays the part very smoothly. His first scene is one of my favorites,” said Petty.
Petty has had two plays published with Pioneer Drama, “Death Aboard the Duchess” and “JAMZ’ Christmas Carol.” This is her fourth production at Columbus Middle School.
She said she was led to “Anne of Green Gables” because she wanted to write a play with a strong female lead because they haven’t done one at CMS before.
“One of my favorite books growing up was “Anne of Green Gables,” said Petty. “I read the entire series when I was a middle-schooler and loved every moment of it. I wanted the students to get to know a character like that, but on a level they could understand.”
“Andi, has been an orphan for nearly her entire life and has been passed from foster home to foster home. She’s tough and a bit mistrusting, but has a quality that attracts people to her without her even trying,” she said.
Petty admitted that directing middle-schoolers isn’t always easy. “They can be challenging at times: forgetting lines, goofing off backstage, goofing off onstage…, but at the end of the day, we enjoy what we’re doing,” she said. “I have loved directing this show. It’s allowed me to get to know a lot of the new students at CMS as well as continue working with ones who were in the shows last year. They’re very talented.
“I have laughed and laughed with them this time,” she continued. “There are some really tricky moments in the play that have led to some hilarious bloopers. I don’t want to give it away, but somebody’s getting punched and somebody’s getting wet.”
Petty said her favorite part of directing is watching the young actors transform. “Some of them, like Aaron, come to me on full blast ready to take on the stage and audience doing whatever I ask. Some of them, like Kayla, come to me quiet and reserved and literally transform into vibrant and enthusiastic young people who can steal an audience’s heart in a hurry,” she said.
“I always joke with them that when they become famous and have their opening night on Broadway, I like the tenth row of the center section and to send my tickets to the school.”
Also performing in “Andi of Green Gables are Vamiya Singleton as Dena Berry; Maya Bogan as Mrs. Rachel Lynn; Aidan Dunkelberg as Jerry Jackson Jr.; Sophia Oswalt as Jenny Killebrew; Andrea Baker as Lana Michaels; Alexis McCranie as Maureen Finley; Aaron Gavin as Teddy Jake Landers; John Tabarez-Morales as Louis Milligan; Tia Turner as Mrs. Stacy; Taylor Wilson as Mrs. Spencer; and Mary Williams as Mrs. Howell.
The crew includes Stage Manager Ashleigh Seelnacht; Assistant Stage Manager Kim Bennett; Sound Operators Keshala Williams and Isaiah Karriem; Light board operators Marcel Wells-Dunbar and Stephanie Fuller; Wardrobe directors Katelyn Peterson and Lauren Hairston; Properties Mistress Briann Waggoner; Deck Crew members Taylen Neal and Hunter Brooks; and Ushers Koby Dismukes, Anna Pierce, and Miracle Clayborn.
“At the end of it all, it’s an amazing feeling to know that all of our hard work has brought to life people who never existed before now and we hope it will change the audience as much as it has changed us,” said Petty.
The only public performance of “Andi of Green Gables” is tonight, Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at Columbus Middle School. Tickets are $5.