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High school senior sees her dystopian play open at Highwood Theatre

IMG 2350 copy dog must die 1Cast of five rehearses Highwood’s ‘The Dog Must Die’ COURTESY PHOTOMadison Middleton began studying at The Highwood Theatre at age 11, and, in her words, “has never left.”

Now nearly 18, she is not only a senior at DC's Fusion Academy but also a budding playwright who is about to see her second production open at Highwood.

That production – “The Dog Must Die” – is a dystopian drama that questions what happens when concrete columns have been built above ground to house and save society because life on earth is no longer sustainable.

“The extraordinary thing about Highwood is that participants often have the unique opportunity to branch out into other positions,” said Middleton. “In my case, I have become a director, vocal and acting instructor, and playwright. This reinforces a sense of direction and self-confidence.”

The seed for her play took root a few years ago during Middleton’s conversation with a teacher about the future of human survival. “One idea that permeated as we talked was gigantic structures that operate much like apartment complexes but on a larger scale. That image stuck in my mind and served as the basis for ‘The Dog Must Die,’” she said. 

The young playwright advocates for the environment through the arts, declaring that: “The health of our planet is intrinsically connected to our health as a species and a society. The ending of the script is often considered depressing, but I'm working on finding ‘the call to action,’ so that people don't leave feeling discouraged or heartbroken but rather moved to respond productively.”

Middleton's first production at Highwood was "The Requiem,” began as an assignment for a high school screenwriting class which she adapted for the stage for the 2015 Women's Voices Theatre Festival, the inaugural edition of what has become an annual D.C. event celebrating female playwrights.   

“It was the only entirely student-produced play featured in the festival,” said Highwood Theatre Artistic Director Matthew Nicola. “DC Theatre Scene named the show one of the top 10 productions in the Festival, among many other accolades Madison and the cast received for it.”               

Nicola calls Middleton “one of our most accomplished students," and said what appeals to Highwood most about Madison's work is the level of sophistication and nuance in her writing – "beyond her years.”

Samuel Intrater, who is directing “The Dog Must Die,” finds meaning in the work that goes beyond his usual love of theater.                                                                             

“Theater is something that means a lot to me, but usually I've been doing it for my own personal enjoyment and passion,” Intrater said. “When I heard about an opportunity to do what I love while also raising awareness for a cause that's very important to me – climate change – I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Intrater has primarily acted in productions at Highwood, including “Spamalot,” “You Can't Take It With You,” “Avenue Q,” and “Into the Woods." "The Dog Must Die" is his directorial debut.                               

One directorial challenge is the play’s small cast of five – portrayed by Gayle Carney, Bill Greene, Michael Makar, Zoe Walpole, and Nina Marti. 

“So, each of them plays a very critical and unique role …,” said Intrater. “They all have to go through character arcs that contribute to the meaning of the show. My goal is to work with each of them individually so that each of these five characters is able to develop and shine.”

Meanwhile, Middleton continues to act and direct. She will appear next spring as part of the student cast in Highwood’s Open Source Theatre Project production of Nick Blaemire's "Soon" and will direct the winter student production of the musical "Sweet Charity."

“The Dog Must Die” runs Jan. 25 through Feb. 11, at The Highwood Theatre, a non-profit organization promoting the performing arts through community-produced theater. It is located at 914 Silver Spring Ave., Ste. 102 in Silver Spring. For information and tickets, call 301-587-0697 or visit: www.thehighwoodtheatre.org

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