By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — A spooky Halloween treat awaiting a group of Highland Middle School students will mix the macabre with the flair of Broadway.
About 120 students are going to Indianapolis today to watch “Cabaret Poe,” a two-act, two-hour show written by Anderson native Ben Asaykwee.
This is the fourth year he has staged the ripe-for-Halloween show, which uses music, singing, poetry, dance and gallows humor to interpret Poe's works. Like many of the students heading to Indy, Asaykwee was in a gifted and talented language arts class taught by Highland drama coach Karen Sipes.
Sipes said, “When I first saw it in 2009, I wished that all of my students would be able to see it. Satirical, hilarious, moving, fun – I went back to see it each year.”
In 2011, Asaykwee asked Sipes to play a role in nine of 20 performances. At today’s matinee, she’ll reprise the role of Morella, a character based on a Poe short story. Sipes had hoped to bring the production to Highland but the school theater is undergoing renovations.
The trip is funded through an Anderson Education Foundation grant titled “Meet the Macabre: Edgar Allen Poe.”
Along with student teacher Emma Kiser from Ball State University, Sipes has been using Poe's work to teacher state standards including ways to analyze the development of a theme, how elements of a story or drama interact and how an author contrasts points of view of different characters.
Sipes gets into the spirit of Poe to help students gain a better, if not more visual, understanding of Poe’s haunting and symbolic works. She often wears a Victorian outfit while reading Poe.
“She has days where she would just sit there and read poetry. She would dress up and she’d act out skits,” said student Zoey Smith. “It makes it more fun to learn.”
Smith’s favorite Poe works include a short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where a body is hidden under floorboards, and a poem, “The City in Sea” where Death controls a city.
“Both of those stories are kind of whimsical in a weird way,” she said.
Last year, Asaykwee visited Highland to work with drama students.
“He was interesting and he gave you different points of view,” said Smith.
With Asaykwee’s help, she fine-tuned a one-act play, “British Newly,” about the “dramas” of teenage girls when they get together. As an eighth-grader this year, she’ll be in the group heading to Indy.
Seventh-grader Jordan Boylen also appreciates Sipes’ dramatic presentations.
“You feel it more than when you read it alone because she has emphasis on certain words.”
Boylen’s favorite Poe tales are “The Pit and the Pendulum” and the ominous “The Raven” in which Poe laments losing his love, Lenore.
“I believe the raven symbolizes his grief and depression because he talks about how the raven never leaves him,” Boylen said.
She’s looking forward to the school-approved spooky show on Halloween.
“I think it will be a little creepier because Halloween has this scary aura around it,” she said.