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Huntley alumna writes, directs play adaptation

Director Holly Burkhalter, 24, watches one of her actors Thursday during a rehearsal for "The Princess and the Pirate" at the Huntley High School Performing Arts Center. Burkhalter is a 2003 graduate of Huntley High School. She wrote the play, which opens tonight.
Director Holly Burkhalter, 24, watches one of her actors Thursday during a rehearsal for "The Princess and the Pirate" at the Huntley High School Performing Arts Center. Burkhalter is a 2003 graduate of Huntley High School. She wrote the play, which opens tonight.

HUNTLEY – A group of budding actors sat along a stage Wednesday, talking excitedly among themselves during their first full dress rehearsal before opening night.

Their director hurriedly bounced from behind the scenes to the front of the theater, adding last-minute details to a colorful set and delivering costume hairpieces to a few female stars.

And the hard work is soon to pay off, as tonight marks the opening of 24-year-old Holly Burk­halter’s fifth play that she’s directed for District 158. “The Princess and the Pirate,” a comedy based on the concept of Mark Twain’s “Pauper” version, also is her second written adaptation.

Aside from bringing her skills to the stage, the relatively young Burkhalter touts local experience as a 2003 graduate of Huntley High School. She began her theater career at age 16 there with the guidance of her mother, a Marlowe Middle School teacher.

“I went to ballet, studied visual arts; ... it was just a natural progression,” said Burkhalter, who lives in Sycamore.

Burkhalter – with her mother, Janet, as producer – and 46 student actors from third-graders through high school sophomores contributed to the new play. To add originality, Burkhalter incorporated Monty Python-inspired bits, real-life events of Queen Elizabeth I, and modern pop and rock music.

The actors won’t be singing, she said, but there will be plenty of dancing.

“I enjoy doing children’s theater that’s also funny for adults,” Burkhalter said. “Because they need a laugh, too.”

Burkhalter wrote her first adaptation a few years ago on “A Christmas Carol,” featuring more of the ghost story and additional parts for children.

Her next project is a fairy tale about Little Boy Blue, billed as story by Mark Twain and stage play by Burkhalter. But she’s been reworking Twain’s storyline for the past six months.

Although Burkhalter formerly had studied painting in college, she hopes to soon get her bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University in reading and history education. One day, she’d also like to work full time for her high school alma mater.

“I think I always had the idea I wanted to teach because of my mom,” Burkhalter said. “I love this age. They’re young enough to know you’re not supposed to be cool, but old enough to get your jokes.”

• • •

If you go

What: “The Princess and the Pirate,” a comedy adaptation starring District 158 students, written and directed by Huntley High School alumna Holly Burkhalter.

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Performing Arts Center, Huntley High School, 13719 Harmony Road in Huntley.

Cost: Tickets sold for $5 at the door 45 minutes before each performance.

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