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Hamlet marks the end of North Crawford Playhouse directors career
KING CLAUDIUS, played by Clayton Herfel, and Queen Gertrude, played by Rachael Peterson, cannot console Ophelia, driven mad by the death of her father Polonius. The two appeared in the recent production of Hamlet, put on by the North Crawford Playhouse. The famous Shakespearian play was the last Playhouse production directed by its legendary director Rob Ghormley.

NORTH CRAWFORD - The North Crawford Playhouse’s recently concluded production of ‘Hamlet’ was a fitting farewell to the theater’s legendary director Rob Ghormley.

Ghormley’s remarks in his introduction and conclusion to Shakespeare’s masterpiece on the final Saturday performance brought a bit of laughter and a few tears to the assembled cast, crew and audience. Let’s just say–the love in the building was palpable. 

The director said later his brief remarks to introduce the play sort of took off based on the audience response he received.

“A lot of former students were in the audience for the final performance that had been in previous plays,” Ghormley explained later. “Students I hadn’t seen since the early 90s had come to the closing night.”

In athletics, every player and every coach wants to go out a winner and with this production of ‘Hamlet,’ Rob Ghormley could exit stage left as the ultimate winner. Like any team playing in the last game of the coach’s career, the cast and crew gave Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play everything they had–for the old man (meaning Ghormley not Shakespeare in this case).

The play, a complicated and challenging undertaking for any theater group let alone the local high school theater company, was further complicated by 10 days of missed rehearsal due to inclement weather. When the cast finally got down to the gist of the rehearsals, there was just two weeks left until the opening.

Gavin Forkash, who played Hamlet, acknowledged there was a bit of panic for both the cast and director with two weeks to go. However, after a solid week of rehearsals, the cast could see things coming together, even if the director was still a bit worried.

The play started with the dress rehearsal for the North Crawford students and things were underway.

“For all the missed rehearsals it went well,” according to Rachael Peterson, who played Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude. “There were a few minor slipups, but it went well.”

Actually, the North Crawford Playhouse ‘Hamlet’ was a tour de force of the theater’s strengths from the performances of the actors, to the superb blocking and stage direction, to the marvelously constructed set and flawless performance of the tech crew’s sound and effects–‘Hamlet' had it all.

Senior Gavin Forkash was obviously under pressure in the lead role of Hamlet because of the missed rehearsals.

Forkash had appeared in 11 previous North Crawford Playhouse productions, but in Hamlet the enormity of the role and missed rehearsals added up.

“The hardest part was the weight of the role and getting everything memorized on time,” Forkash said.

Ghormley approaches memorization and rehearsals differently than most directors. He uses what is known as the reader method. Instead of separating the memorization from the rehearsals, the director has the actors memorize parts to be rehearsed that night. The actors play the parts without reading from scripts. Since they are still learning the parts, a reader with a script prompts actors who miss cues or can’t remember lines. It’s a different approach, but the success of the North Crawford Playhouse productions show the results.

Actually, ‘Hamlet’ was just the exclamation point at the end of a long career for Ghormley. Rob started directing high school theater 34 years ago. He’s spent the last 24 years at North Crawford—in all Rob Ghormley has directed 73 productions.

He’s made quite a few friends along the way, including fellow North Crawford teacher Paul Cota, who is the musical director for the annual musical.

Cota was already working in the theater program when Ghormley arrived. After that, Rob did the theater and Paul did the music.

Ghormley has had tons of help from all kinds of people. Cota said Ghormley and art teacher Joni Peterson made a good team when it came to set design. John Tully worked on the Hamlet set design.

Assistant director Camille Smith provided a lot of help over many years.

However, Rob Ghormley was quick to credit his wife and family for helping him.

“I couldn’t have done it myself, if I had not had my wife, Rebekah, staying at home raising six children by herself,” Ghormley said. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She raised my family and I raised a family of theater kids.”

Despite his love for the theater, Ghormley constantly cautions his students against considering becoming actors. Even in the speech following ‘Hamlet,’ he repeated the caution he gives that acting is not a good profession. To Rob Ghormley the theater experience is designed to help the students gain confidence to succeed in whatever profession they choose.

One North Crawford Playhouse actress just couldn’t follow that advice. Jane Pfitsch listened to Ghormley and even tried a few extra science courses in college, but concluded she wanted to be an actress. Pfitsch has been acting on Broadway for several years and is currently appearing in the smash hit ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

So how important to the school district is the North Crawford Playhouse? It’s pretty important to hear district administrator Brandon Munson tell it.

“I have worked in a handful of other districts, but there was no singular program as important as the North Crawford Playhouse is here,” Munson said.

The administrator noted that any singular production involves about 40 percent of the middle and high school students. He said that students open enroll in North Crawford because of the Playhouse. Some students go on to study theater in college, and of course, Jane Pfitsch went to Broadway.

Munson credits a lot of the North Crawford Playhouse success to Rob’s vision.

So that creates the question what about the future of the playhouse?

“The Playhouse will go on,” Munson said. He indicated that the director job has been posted and there are people who have expressed interest. Munson hopes to have a recommendation for a new director in front of the school board at their April meeting.

Of course, musical director Paul Cota will return, but even he is not certain how the future will play out. Yet, he seems certain there will be a North Crawford Playhouse going forward. The veteran musical director noted the school has been doing plays for 52 years.

Actors like junior Rachael Peterson and sophomore Marco Esparza, who played Polonius in Hamlet, have planned to be in next year’s productions.

Well if there ever was a game bunch, it’s the thespians from the North Crawford Playhouse–so somehow you just know they’re thinking–The show must go on!

Thanks for everything Rob Ghormley and thanks to everyone else who makes the North Crawford Playhouse as special as it is.