Two Heads are Better than None

Writer John Heimbuch and director Jon Ferguson team up to bring the Headless Horseman back to Sleepy Hollow.

Ryan Lear rehearses the opening scene of Walking Shadow Theatre Company's production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at the Red Eye Theatre in Minneapolis. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow opens Saturday, Feb. 9.

Mark Vancleave

Ryan Lear rehearses the opening scene of Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at the Red Eye Theatre in Minneapolis. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow opens Saturday, Feb. 9.

Patrick Maloney

What: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

When: Saturday through Mar. 2nd

Where: Red Eye Theatre, 15 W. 14th Street, Minneapolis

Cost: $22, $15 for students and seniors

 

John Heimbuch’s writing style isn’t quite what you’d expect from a seasoned playwright.

“The first day, all we showed up with was the original story,” he said.

From that first meeting in an old brick warehouse, it took just four weeks for the ensemble to write, direct and rehearse “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” While the actors read from the original, Heimbuch sat in the corner and plugged away at his interpretation of the script.

“It’s a very collaborative process,” director Jon Ferguson said. “Letting the room inform what you’re doing, I think you discover the heart of the play.”

While this experimental process might make other writers and directors nervous, Ferguson revels in it.

“You just have to go in there and trust that we’re going to make something interesting,” he said.

But all this was in 2010, when they first wrote their adaptation of “Sleepy Hollow” for the Hassler Theater in Plainview, Minn. Now, Ferguson, Heimbuch and half the original cast are ready for their Minneapolis premiere of the show. With the script already written, the original players and Ferguson can focus on tightening up their production. However, the second time around isn’t easier for everyone.

“It’s harder for Jon and easier for me,” said Heimbuch. “The script isn’t changing much, whereas, the first time, the script was changing every day.”

Ferguson had to do the original process backward, making new actors fit into roles that were written for other people. And although that might be stressful, the mood of rehearsals doesn’t reflect that.

“I’m passionate about the atmosphere being really caring and light,” said Ferguson. “It’s a fun room, a caring room.”

That spirited tone makes it easy to coax the intricacies of the stories out of the actors.

“Be careful what you say or do because John might write it down,” Ferguson said.

That doesn’t mean that everything is gold — “We need to learn to fail beautifully,” Ferguson said.

As for the show itself, the keyword is surprise.

“Funny surprise or scary surprise,” said Joanna Harmon, actor and University of Minnesota theater alumna. “We’re trying to keep the audience on their toes.”

Similar to how actors play off of one another, the eeriness and humor of the show work together to intensify each other. That aura permeates the entire production.

“The staging is evocative,” says Heimbuch. “We’re not trying to exactly recreate the world.”

Although the production is a far cry from realistic, it has a lesson for everyone.

“It’s a comment on people’s prejudices and how that behavior is at the expense of others,” Harmon said. “When we push things to an extreme, we can better understand ourselves.”