Cast members rehearse for the production of "East of the Sun and West of The Moon.” The back row, from left, is Katie Pumayalli, August EarthTree and Lulu Pumayalli. Lily Doyle is in front. (Photo courtesy of Angela Watkins)

Telluride Middle/High School theater productions are back, as the school's production of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" shows Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

The show will be the first production for school theater arts director Angela Watkins since the pandemic began.

"It's exciting to experience a story that might be very familiar and experience it together as a whole. … We're pretty much through the woods, and we're going to be back together as humans again," Watkins said.

"East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is a Norwegian fairy tale that follows a young, beautiful girl named Tove as she goes on a quest to rescue her true love. The tale has everything needed for a quintessential fairy tale, including eerie hags, true love, a talking polar bear, stormy cold winds and self-discovery.

"It is a beautiful story about a brave girl who must battle supernatural forces to free a young man from a terrible spell," Watkins explained in a recent news release.

The story is close to Watkins’ heart. Growing up, her mother would read the English adaptation of the tale to her, and now Watkins reads the story to her own daughter.

"I wanted to do a show that would welcome an audience of all ages back to The Palm to commune with theater," Watkins said. "The humor and heroic adventure that accentuates this adaptation of a girl achieving adulthood has something for everyone."

Watkins decided to pursue the story toward the end of last year. In her classes, she would discuss the struggles of the pandemic with students and hear their personal experiences.

"The stories I heard when we all came back together were of struggles and the rules and restrictions and all of these fabulous, creative, funny stories that kids told about how they grew and how they found courage, and realized the love of their families and of the people close to them. That kind of parallels to this story," she said.

The 15-member cast includes students in grades 7-12, as well as a few younger kids in minor roles. The only adult in the play is school athletic director Chris Murray, who will play the polar bear.

Watkins cast the show in late September, but rehearsals have been all hands on deck for the past two weeks.

On the surface, the play itself is simple, and the cast is relatively small, however, what sets this production apart is the collaboration between Watkins and artists Brian Dickinson and Tuck Gillett. Gillett, a music teacher and band director, worked alongside guest artist Dickinson to create a soundscape for the production. Dickinson works in sound therapy and uses gongs and other instruments to create a meditative experience. Watkins was first introduced to Dickinson when she attended one of his meditative "sound bath" sessions.

"I had been thinking about this story for many years. When I heard his sounds and everything, I thought, 'he's got to come and do the music,'" Watkins stated.

Watkins described the production as "a play with music." In the play, four songs come with recorded music that cast members will sing to, but they are small moments in the play, explained Watkins.

Dickinson and Gillett will play the entire time, creating a unique soundscape the audience isn't likely to forget. Dickinson looks forward to joining his sound therapy with storytelling.

"I love creating meditative soundscapes that can take people on a journey. This sweet Norwegian fairy tale fits quite well with the cosmic sounds of the gongs, ancient whistles from South America, Native American flutes and mystical chimes," Dickinson explained.

At first, the students were apprehensive about the story's simplicity and the unfamiliar concept of a soundscape accompaniment. Watkins explained to the cast that, while it is a classic fairy tale, when they see everything working together they will feel the "enormity of Tove's world."

"I had to say to them when you see the images, and you see and hear these big sounds of the gong, the story becomes bigger than what you see on the page of the script. It's bigger than the rehearsal room where we've been for so long," she said.

According to Watkins, the kids eventually had an awakening of sorts, and the young cast soon became excited because the production was different from past productions.

Dickinson believes it’ll be a production that everyone involved will remember.

"I hope people leave the theater feeling warmth and a sense of awe and wonder," he said.

Tickets can be purchased at the door of the Michael D. Palm Theater. Evening and matinee show tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. COVID protocols will be in place, and masks will be required for admittance.