EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – In what library officials believe to be a first, 17 students have written and staged an original play inspired by “Gregor the Overlander,” a children’s fantasy novel written by Suzanne Collins.
The Eastchester Public Library’s play, “Into the Underland,” developed over six months, said Children’s Librarian Jonathan Heifetz, who runs the library’s Book Chat & Advisory Group.
The group, which is geared toward avid readers in the fourth and fifth grades, met for the first time in October, Heifetz said.
During the meeting, fourth-grader Caterina Stoica, who had just read “Gregor the Overlander” during the Westchester Library System’s Battle of the Books, suggested the group perform a play based on Collins’ novel. Her idea was met with much enthusiasm.
Discussion of the play continued in November and December. In January, Heifetz said, fifth-grader Sofia Kolndreu began writing the play, which is loosely based on the book but features several new characters and plot twists.
Fifth-grader Cecilia Murray stepped up to direct the play while the cast of actors included: Kaitlin Avella, JoAnna Campbell, Naomi Dube, Emily Forzaglia, Chayce Hewitt, Michael Masiello, Patrick Murray (who played Gregor), Ava Renzo, Sofia Renzo, Koichiro Saito, Caterina Stoica (who also contributed live piano accompaniment), and Michael Stoica.
Chloe Hewitt, Anna Murray, and Maddy Murray – three little sisters of the actors -- made special appearances as rats.
Though the students had no previous acting experience, Heifetz said the group worked hard to memorize their lines and attended weekly rehearsals in the eight weeks leading up to the June 1 and June 4 performances.
“This was my first play and I loved playing King Vikus and Gregor’s Dad,” said Masiello, a cast member. “It was a lot of fun working together with the whole cast.”
Heifetz, who served a the project’s facilitator, said he was thrilled to work with children so excited about participating in library programs.
"Everything about this play exceeded my wildest expectations," he said. “My absolute favorite thing about all of this is that it was the children’s idea. The play looked exactly as they wanted it to look.”