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posted on March 22nd, 2024 by Reyn Ricafort


Cast of “The Winter Guard Play

It’s the day before state championships and at the top of rehearsal, the music won’t start. On edge, tense, and uneasy, the Spartan Winter Guard team prepares for what to some of them is the most important day of their lives.

This is the opening scene of The Winter Guard Play, attentively written by Avery Deutsch and brilliantly directed by Skidmore alumni Emily Moler (’15). Presented in the JKB’s Black Box on March 1-6, The Winter Guard Play is an ode to friendship, vulnerability, teamwork, and bravery in the face of trepidation. Set in present-day Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, this witty and vulnerable play depicts the fiery, arduous, and loving interpersonal dynamics of a high school Winter Guard team choreographing a routine for nationals on the topic of global warming. The kicker, and the fire under the belly of this play, is that the team is functioning sans a coach.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Winter Guard is a competitive performance art involving elements of lyrical, acrobatic, and jazz dance, and the throwing and catching of prop rifles, flags, and sabers. Wildly artistic, athletic, and impressive, these performances often have elaborate costumes, props, and themes and require immense coordination, skill, and teamwork. Student Hannah Schlosberg (‘26) choreographed the sequences in the show, making it her first time choreographing any Winter Guard routines. Throughout the play, Schlosberg’s choreography mirrors each character and their relationships, speaking to its thematic elements. The Winter Guard Play’s team worked closely with the Shenendehowa High School Color Guard’s team and coach Scott Snell, to reproduce these impressive feats. Here’s a link to a recent article written on their partnership.

The lights go up and the audience is immediately immersed in the world of the play. With the help of students, scenic designer and professor Garett Wilson has given the Black Box stage a remarkable makeover. The floor is painted like a high school gym: warm browns for the wood and blue and red markings with stripes. The words “GO SPARTANS” are painted on the back wall and the mezzanine is adorned with banners. The seats lie on both sides of the gymnasium, offering the audience an immersive feel. It’s competition season for the Mechanics Field High School Winter Guard team – the name of an actual high school team whose 2014 national’s routine inspired Avery Deutsch to write the play – and Caroline (Chavon Patterson ’24), Jess (Gigi Brown ’24), Lucy (Sophie D’Amore ’26), Liz (Ida Mihok ’24), Maya (Lila Sandler ’27), Mindy (Nina Renkert ’25), and Zoe (Olivia Champeau ’26) all walk onstage to warm up for rehearsal, their costumes carefully crafted by costume designer Megan Richardson. When Jess and Maya can’t seem to get the speaker to work, Lucy – an exceedingly driven, blunt, and fierce junior – begins chanting the words vis-a-vis their routine. We, the audience, get a teaser of their final routine’s themes, like, “My earth” and “My forests”. The team follows Lucy’s lead until the music starts, and the audience is pulled into their dazzling lyrical dance. A spotlight lands on Liz, holding their flag, who announces, “Eight weeks earlier”, causing the play to jump back in time. Immediately, the play is rich with complex relationships, power dynamics, and distinctive characters.

The scene changes, and only Mindy is left staring into a singular spotlight from the sky. She begins, saying, “Hi God! It’s me. Mindy”. As she continues, she describes her wish to become an “entirely different person”, more courageous and unafraid. She references her childhood and her memory of being told, “You’re so brave” in the face of a yet-to-be-named hardship. Candor pours out of her timid, people-pleasing ears during the unfeigned monologue. The audience gets their first glimpse of Mindy’s soft temperament, and they learn that she is new to the school and the team as a sophomore.

Cast of “The Winter Guard Play

The next scene starts as Jess – a strong leader and senior – is making her pitch for the theme of their nationals routine: gun control. Maya – a junior, wise, anxious, and watchful – interrupts Jess with, “Are we sure we don’t wanna call her?” In this scene, the audience learns that the team has recently lost their coach, the ‘her’ referred to in Maya’s question, whom we also learn played a big role in introducing their town to Winter Guard. According to the characters, “coach” quit after a harsh dispute with Jess for dropping her flag during one of their routines. Despite the team’s newfound independence, “coach’s” departure has agitated interpersonal relationships among the members who all feel some type of way about their new situation. Indeed, Jess responds to Maya’s suggestion with “Maya. It’s me or her”, putting front and center the trust they need to have in one another for the team to succeed on their own.

The group explodes into a heated discussion: Jess continues to defame “coach”, Liz continues to speak to her flag pole, Maya continues to express worry about not having “coach”, Mindy won’t stop prying into why “coach” left, Zoe is babbling about her unwavering support for “revolution”, and Lucy laments the group’s lack of focus in trying to pick a theme. Under all this, Caroline subdues herself so as to not ruffle any feathers. Finally, Jess steps forward and proposes that she and Caroline, the seniors of the group, be tasked with leading the team to victory. Despite her deep anxiety, Caroline agrees to join Jess in leading the team and to refrain from calling Coach. This moment offers a glance into the power dynamic between Jess and Caroline, revealing the themes of trust and collaboration.

The scene continues with Mindy presenting her suggestions for themes, many of which are tame and seem less politically motivated than what the group is used to. Lucy responds in sarcastic support and makes a gesture of “wiping the moment off her shoulders,” a gesture that’s repeated throughout the play when someone asks for forgiveness. The team mimics her in unison. As Mindy goes through her suggestions, she accidentally proposes the theme of global warming, to which the group enthusiastically responds. They then move on to Zoe’s presentation, who, hoping to confront the team with an explosive performance, prepared an elaborate bid with a posterboard and a passionate monologue about child labor. We see Zoe – a funny, bold, and animated sophomore – come to life in this monologue. Despite her over-the-top presentation, the group collectively votes to move forward with the theme of global warming. Zoe’s brother (assumed GarageBand genius) is set to create their backing track, which sound designer Dylan Salinger (’24) created masterfully for the final routine.

The lights change as the next scene moves to a dramatic performance titled, “Rip to Rejected Routines”, a lyrical routine in honor of the rejected presentations. During the dance, each member holds up a flag with the name of a theme that the group had rejected and moves gracefully throughout the stage. After the number, everyone exits except for Lucy and Maya, who wait to be picked up from school. While they wait Maya communicates her worries about the logistics of functioning without a coach and Lucy pokes fun at her for acting, “middle-aged”. The two squabble over Maya’s stress and Maya worries about her earlier conflict with Jess. Lucy dismisses her, saying she doesn’t think about Jess. Instead, she only thinks about winning. The scene shifts, and Maya stands alone on the stage. She speaks directly to the audience as she discusses her trick of trying to change audience members’ minds when they seem unenthused while watching their performances. According to Maya, she telepathically sends them prayers as she does multiplication tables. To her, math is safe and predictable in a world of uncertainty. Truly, the audience gets a glimpse into the inner workings of Maya’s anxiety.

Maya (Lila Sandler ’27), Lucy (Sophie D’Amore ’26)

The rest of the group enter and lay on the ground in a circle with their heads resting next to each other. They “mood board” about the theme, informing Mindy of their process as they shout out ideas. They discuss the Winter Guard grading system, an elaborate and detailed system of categories (Nuance, Adherence to Equipment, Stamina, Recovery, and Detail) graded out of ten. They complain about how despite requiring immense skill, an intense budget, artistry, and athleticism, Winter Guard has yet to be acknowledged by the Olympics, the general population, and their family. They impress their disdain for Color Guard upon Mindy and Zoe, then do a ritual to initiate the two new sophomores, chanting, “Winter Guard for life”. In this final moment, we see the team beaming, unified, and strong; one of the first moments of unity we see from the group.

The scene changes and the team is lined up as Zoe yells emotions for the group to show on their faces while Caroline coaches them about the necessity of storytelling through their facial expressions. In the next scene, Liz dances alone onstage with the flag they’d been holding since the start of the show. They look around to make sure they’re alone and begin to slow-dance with the flag. A hum of old Hollywood music plays. Lyrical, intimate, and sweet, the dance shows Liz’s authentic connection to their flag.

The lights come up on Maya, Liz, Mindy, Zoe, and Lucy stretching and gossiping about last year’s national winner’s theme: farming. Mindy and Zoe learn that during their routine, Caroline caught a flag that Jess dropped which caused the team to lose points. The ordeal incited a vicious argument between Jess and coach at the competition. They continue to gossip about the coach’s unkind tendencies and personality before Caroline and Jess enter to start practice. The scene reveals the intensity and complexity not only of Jess and Caroline’s relationship but also their relationship to coach The scene changes and the group returns to rehearsing facial expressions led by their faux fearless leader, Jess. The next scene transitions to Caroline and Jess alone onstage. Caroline is seemingly on the phone with their former coach. When Caroline notices Jess’s presence, she immediately hangs up and claims that she was talking to her grandmother. The short scene ends with Jess suggesting to Caroline that she should be dance captain, reasoning that she’s a better dancer than her. Caroline agrees after Jess says, “Caroline. Come on. It’s our senior year. Do this with me.” While the scene is short, it reveals much of the two girls’ relationship to one another and the sport.

The next scene is the appointment of Zoe as “audio liaison” and Caroline as dance captain. Lucy doesn’t vote for Caroline, but as Mindy opens her eyes, Lucy shoots her arm up. The team excitedly group hugs, and in an instant, all but Lucy falls to the ground around her. The spotlight shines down on Lucy as she begins her vulnerable monologue. The audience learns the extent of her dedication to catching flags, as she explains that she’s never dropped one or stopped competing, not even when her mom passed away. As the intensity of her monologue builds, so does the patter of the cast’s hands on the gym floor. Emphasizing the bubbling of Lucy’s suppressed emotions, the tapping increases in volume and stops on intentional words in the monologue. This is one of Emily Moler’s many brilliant directing choices; the audience is let into the hyper-competitive, complicated, in-love-with-winter-guard, mind of Lucy.

Cast of “The Winter Guard Play

The team enters and they discuss the addition of fake blood to their routine. Maya, again, brings up the lack of adult decision-making, and the team decides to sleep on the subject and come back to it later. The team leaves, minus Maya and Jess. They discuss Maya’s parents’ financial support of the group, and Maya attempts to present herself as a safe place for Jess to be vulnerable about last year’s events. Jess shuts this down with “What happened last year, it’s honestly funny. Being humiliated in front of the whole team and then absolutely no one having my back. I think it’s really fucking funny. And I love when people bring it up.” The tension, fervently executed by the actors, is palpable. Maya is clearly affected by Jess’ outburst and starts to breathe heavily after Jess exits.

The lights change as the team comes in as a physical actualization of Maya’s panic, dancing around her, frantically waving flags and ribbons in her face. This moment transitions into the group’s rehearsal of their routine, in which Lucy drops a flag. In truth, Jess had stepped on her, but Lucy blames Mindy out of fear of challenging Jess. The group tosses accusations around, but just before the group erupts into chaos, Lucy performs their “forgiveness” gesture. They move on in a desperate attempt to cool the temperature in the room. They discuss the consistency and quantity of the blood, but Mindy is uneasy about making the audience feel overwhelmed and guilty. Despite Mindy’s timid objections and Maya and Lucy’s rebuttals, Jess and Caroline share a moment of connection and fully commit to the intensity of the piece. The scene changes and Liz and their flag return, this time joining together in a samba across the stage. The bright blue and red lights, designed by Emma Mangol, reflect Liz’s vigor and commitment to their beloved flag.

The scene returns to another scene of Lucy and Maya waiting to be picked up, this time in a brief discussion about Lucy dropping her flag in rehearsal. They shift the conversation to fake blood, and Maya panics as she thinks about the amount of real blood that would be shed if the planet became uninhabitable. Lucy breaks the intensity by asking to copy Maya’s homework. Keeping things surface-level and brief, Lucy exits upon her father’s arrival. The scene changes with Caroline confronting Jess about stepping on Lucy, the fake blood, and annoying underclassmen. Caroline calls her out, saying, “Hello coach”, which Jess does not find amusing. The fiery silence speaks volumes in this scene. Caroline takes out her phone as Jess claps back saying, “Calling your grandma again?” These high-ferocity conversations in the play continue to build and build, each time releasing increased demonstrations of the characters. The scene shifts to Zoe and Mindy talking onstage about their family lives. The discussion evolves, and Mindy finds herself revealing to Zoe that she was once severely ill. To couch the discomfort of this conversation, Mindy begins talking about Zoe’s brother, whom she clearly has a crush on. They discuss his ex-girlfriend and then Zoe gets picked up by her parents. Each brief scene has substantial character work, allowing each character to be uniquely understood by the audience.

The group enters and Caroline, Zoe, Maya are doing a sequence of choreography to ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ as a routine to garner donations for the team. After a brief conversation about the nature of donations and the plan for their final routine, Mindy describes that she isn’t comfortable with how the ending of their number dramatizes a collective death. She is immediately shut down as the team gets excited about their upcoming performance. The scene again returns to Caroline and Jess alone onstage, but this time, Caroline desperately pleads with Jess to talk to her. Not looking at her as they speak, Jess responds in short phrases. Jess exits and Caroline leaves a desperate voicemail to their coach saying, “I caught Jess’s flag, like I did exactly what you taught us. It’s not fair for you to be mad at me.” The scene changes and the team enters to do yet another facial expression exercise, this time led by Liz. There is a blackout and Liz returns in her expressive dance with the flag, this time more explosive and hip-hop-oriented.

Cast of “The Winter Guard Play

The lights come up on Maya and Lucy discussing the weather, their fathers, and the routine, which evolves into Maya panicking about the blood. She describes the heaviness of the subject material and how it’s affecting her, saying, “I think I’m depressed. I don’t know. All the blood. And the dying. It’s sadder than I thought it would be.” After Maya’s panic attack, she pleads with Lucy not to share her experience with the rest of the group. Lucy discusses how she, too, has been feeling uneasy. She confides in Maya that she has been unnecessarily rude and describes not voting for Caroline. This is the first moment of authentic connection we see from the two characters in the play. It becomes evident that the looming state competition is affecting the group’s willingness to be open and honest with each other. Zoe and Liz enter, complaining about the school’s musical. They discuss a former member of the group, Rachel, and “freestyle” dance together, an activity that she started in rehearsals. We see the group laughing and enjoying their time together for the first time in a while in the show. Caroline, Jess, and Mindy enter and join. The characters fall on the floor and on one another, chanting, “Look what you did to me,” as the scene flashes back to Caroline and Jess as freshmen at a sleepover.

The tender scene between Caroline and Jess demonstrates the longevity of their relationship and their promise to stick by one another in the team. They talk about their dreams of being seniors and their fears of coach despite the validation they get from her. This intimate look into their early life reveals the deep history and connection between the two characters.

The scene shifts back to the present day, one day before states. The team discusses their excitement while Mindy maintains her objections to the routine’s ending. She reasons that she doesn’t want to make her parents feel guilty, nor does she want them to see her pretending to be dead. The scene erupts into an explosive argument between Lucy, Mindy, and Maya, and Mindy presents an ultimatum: she will quit if they don’t change the ending. Mindy offers no alternative suggestion, so Jess passive-aggressively suggests that they call their former coach. Caroline and Jess argue, prompting Jess to search for Caroline’s phone. Upon finding it, Jess looks through Caroline’s call history and finds proof that Caroline had been talking to coach, a suspicion she’s had early on in the play. Betrayed, angry, and spiteful, Jess rehashes old trauma from last year’s states. In the height and heat of the moment, Caroline screams, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT I’M BETTER AT WINTERGUARD THAN YOU!” and the scene ends in a blackout. This scene is pivotal: all the characters’ complex emotions and personalities crash in a whirlwind of emotion. Here, we see that the team has been burying their issues, and they come out vigorously, just a day before states.

A spotlight hits a praying Mindy who describes to God her confusion, anger, and hopes of being, “the sort of person who knows what to do.” She’s fearful about being left behind and about “dying” in front of her mother; if she does that ending, she will never be able to return to Winter Guard. This scene calls the audience’s attention back to Mindy’s illness, hinting at why she dislikes the idea of her mother seeing her die, even in a performance.

Cast of “The Winter Guard Play

The scene changes. The team is at nationals and they’re dealing with a multitude of issues. First, they can’t be signed in without an adult, and second, Mindy’s a no-show. This, on top of Jess and Caroline’s tension, sends the group into a panic. They shoot out ideas about who they might be able to get to sign the sign-in sheet, and Mindy enters with a deal to present. She’s stronger than we’ve ever seen her. She says that she can get her mom to sign, but only if the group agrees to change the ending. They bicker, and Lucy comes up with a solution: Zoe’s suggested ending from her child labor pitch.

The scene shifts, and Caroline and Jess stand back-to-back centerstage. They stumble through conversation, making attempts at reconnection. Underneath their difficult words lie mutual heartache and love. The tarp is rolled out on the floor, and the group begins their routine. They repeat the same choreography that was done at the beginning of rehearsal, but this time, they freeze as a spotlight hits Liz. Liz begins to talk directly to their flag, about their collective nerves and experiences. This stunning monologue concludes with, “Even though we might not see them once we graduate. Even though all of them think I’m weird. I love them. I think I’m gonna love them until I’m dead. I’m gonna love them forever. And the people you love take care of the other things you love. And I love you. So don’t worry. Even if I died on the floor. Even if I drop dead right now. They’d catch you.” The group resumes dancing to the sound of climate statistics, exploding into a three-minute routine complete with impressive stunts with flags, fake blood oozing out of their mouths, and red liquid paint spilled beneath their feet. They wind down to the same pile as seen before Caroline and Jess’s sleepover scene, where they are lying on top of one another, limp. Then, suddenly, they go down the line unzipping the backs of their costumes, revealing white wings. They stand and chant – like the ending of Zoe’s child labor monologue – “I’M FREE” until Mindy steps forward and says, “Nothing is free.” They rip their wings off their costumes and begin wiping blood from the tarp. Liz goes to throw one last flag, and before the audience can see her catch it, the lights go down.

The audience never gets to see if they catch the flag, let alone win the competition. The winning-driven characters in this play never get to prove themselves to the audience, which could very well be the point. It was never about winning, but about the team. Battling the intensity of the ever-present climate crisis, battling themselves and each other, the complex, loving, and rageful team found a way to be in stunning unity to do what they love.

In truth, a mere synopsis is unable to prove the dedication and artistry that went into putting up The Winter Guard Play at Skidmore. From each actor’s choices – whether that be Maya’s anxious nail-biting to foreshadow her fear about the fake blood getting under her nails or Liz’ hysterical rolling on the floor with their flag – to the incredible direction of the play, all the pieces came together in a mastery of storytelling. This play brings to life not only the multifaceted realities of being a teenager in present times but the human condition as well.

The Winter Guard Play is so much more than a play about Winter Guard.


Sylvie Robinson ’27 is a staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter

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