This past Saturday, the Kenyon College Players (KCP) staged its annual Halloween shadow cast, which this year was a reinterpretation of the classic children’s horror film “Coraline.” The audience came in costume, and Rosse Hall was filled with frenetic energy as rows of vampires, ghosts and ghouls waited for the show to start. At last, the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the crowd. What followed can only be described as spooktacular.
As anyone with even a passing interest in scary movies should know, “Coraline” tells the story of a young girl who moves to a new house and discovers a small locked door that leads to another world. In the Other World, Coraline encounters twisted versions of her parents and neighbors, all of whom have buttons sewed over their eyes. While she is initially charmed by the Other World’s wonders and the doting affection of her Other Parents, she soon discovers that the fantasy belies a darker reality and, with only a sarcastic talking cat to guide her, she has to fight to win back her old life.
The film’s greatest strength is its small cast of memorable characters, a fact that was on full display in this shadow cast. Liv Stripling ’26 dazzled in the titular role; as an actor, she perfectly embodied Coraline’s distinct spunk, while as a dancer, her grace and poise added a new layer of emotional depth to the character. The rest of the cast was equally impressive. Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell ’24 and Finn Alexander ’26 expertly played the dual roles of the Other Mother and Other Father, Emily White ’25 was purr-fectly suave as the Cat and Isabel Keener ’24 garnered lots of laughs as the eccentric Mr. Bobinsky. Yet another standout performance came from Nairi Harumi ’24, whose use of interpretive dance to portray a haunted doll was both beautiful and unsettling.
Of course, even the most talented actors require an excellent director to pull off a performance as ambitious as the Coraline shadow cast. Putting on such a production is no small feat, but director Hallie Underwood ’24 was up to the task. “Working on this production was a dream come true,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. The cast and crew began working on the show in August, at times rehearsing for up to three hours per day and six days per week. Underwood emphasized the importance of collaboration in making the show come together: “Everyone in the cast took on their roles gracefully, and it was so inspiring to see how every character came to life through the dedication of our actors.”
Underwood also spoke to the challenges of directing a shadow cast: “‘Coraline’ is a very elaborate, sensory movie in general, and it was difficult to decide exactly what we wanted to capture onstage.” It was difficult to balance the traditional minimalism of shadow casts with the film’s complex plot and intricate stop-motion visuals: “There was a sense of control that we lost with this, but there was also a lot of beauty in it,” Underwood wrote.
The shadow cast also served as an opportunity to highlight the Kenyon Dance Team, who gave a brief but impressive performance during the show’s intermission. Dressed in spooky-chic shades of black and purple, they danced to a mashup of Doja Cat’s “Tia Tamera” and “Paint the Town Red” and Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend.” In addition to general shouts of enthusiasm, several audience members cheered for specific Dance Team members, eliciting laughter from the rest of the crowd.
The actors’ performances were seamless, both their movements and dialogue perfectly in sync with the film. Unfortunately, the audience’s immersion was interrupted at times due to technical difficulties. The film of “Coraline” played behind the performers as a YouTube video, which left it vulnerable to the fickle whims of Kenyon WiFi. At one point early in the film, the video stopped for several seconds to buffer. Then, right at the emotional climax of the film, as Coraline fled the Other Mother for the final time, the screen went completely blank. Stripling played this moment off flawlessly, smiling at the audience in conspiratorial exasperation, but it was frustrating to be taken out of the film at its most exciting point.
The one other noticeable issue that the shadow cast faced was one of scale. The size of the projected film was disproportionately large compared to the actors, which made it difficult to focus on their performances. However, this minor distraction did not significantly detract from the overall viewing experience and is something that can be easily avoided in future shadow casts.The tradition of shadow casts at Kenyon is a long and storied one, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to High School Musical 2 to Coraline to whatever comes next. These productions provide a unique opportunity for students to engage with each other in a range of creative roles. Whether you’re acting on stage, working behind the scenes or just watching in the audience, you can feel the powerful interconnectedness of the Kenyon community. And hey, if watching Coraline made you feel inspired, KCP is currently taking suggestions for its spring 2024 show!