Michaella Barton didn’t know much about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald before she joined the cast of “Ten November,” a musical dramatization of the legendary Nov. 10, 1975 shipwreck. She does now – and feels the tragedy in her bones.
“It is amazing for me to be part of something like this, because it isn’t just a show,” said Michaella, a Northview High School senior who plays the widow of one of 29 drowned sailors. “You’re giving so much respect to the people who were actually lost in this.”
WHAT: “Ten November,” a musical docudrama about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, will be performed by the Northview High School Drama Club
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 12 and 13 at the Northview High School Max Colley Jr. Performing Arts Center. A 7:30 p.m. dress rehearsal on Wednesday, Nov. 11 is open to senior citizens free of charge
TICKETS: $8 for adults or $6 for students in advance ($1 more at the door, cash or check only); can be purchased here, or at Northview High School between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
She is among about 20 Northview students who will stage the production this week, marking the 40th anniversary of the infamous wreck in Lake Superior. In word and song, they dramatize the souls lost to a fierce storm on the largest ship to have been swallowed by the Great Lakes.
The show also comes 20 years after director Nancy Hoffman and musical director Judy Pellerito first staged it, and is the first time since 2002 they have teamed to lead a production. After co-directing 14 plays at Northview, Hoffman said, “We decided if we were ever going to do it (again), it’s this year, this show.
“Judy and I tried to emphasize (to students) that we have a responsibility to honor these 29 men, their memory and their families, and that it’s a privilege to tell the story,” said Hoffman, an English teacher. “Maybe we’ll educate people, too.”
It’s a labor of love for the pair to reunite around this historic event, which has only become more powerful with time, said Pellerito, Northview’s choir director.
“Now it’s just more meaningful, as you gain life experience and go through loss of your own, and have more empathy and compassion,” she said.
Learning History on Stage
“Ten November,” by playwright Steve Dietz and composer Eric Peltoniemi, weaves together history, fancy and music to dramatize the disaster that claimed all crew members of the iron-ore boat. Memorably immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 hit song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which is not in the play, the sinking’s exact cause remains unknown.
For the cast members, the play prompted them to learn the history of an incident most only knew vaguely. It sent Phoebe Dawson leafing through her grandmother’s old newspaper accounts, which conveyed the tragedy’s full impact at the time.
“When you read through the script, you can feel the emotion that people had,” said Phoebe, a sophomore who plays both an attorney and a sailor. “Every single time you’re on stage saying the lines, you’re thinking an actual person probably said this.
“It’s saddening, but I’m here to tell people this happened,” she added. “We can’t just ignore this.”
Between scenes, Alexus Voss, Lauren Hendrick and Savannah Scheid sing of the sorrow and pathos of such enormous loss. They said it was an honor to be chosen.
“The words in our songs and the words that they speak just really come together to create a lot of emotion,” said Lauren. “There’s times when I’m choked up. It’s hard, but it’s super-cool to be part of it.”
Still Gives the Chills
Hoffman said the cast does a “wonderful” job with a challenging production. “They’ve really risen to the occasion.”
Joan VanderKlok, a retired teacher and the play’s costume designer who also helped with the 1994 production, said it still gives her chills. “It was fantastic then, but it’s more fantastic now,” she said.
The play covers an impressionistic pastiche of scenes, from an inquiry into the cause and speculation about corporate culpability to crackpot theories of alien abduction.
In a powerful monologue, Isaac Christopher portrays a sailor ruminating on the “three sisters” – huge waves that overpowered the 729-foot freighter.
“Technology is not the point,” Isaac said somberly. “The point is when the lake wants you, she takes you.”