Payson High School drama teacher John Siler is going out with a clang.
Retiring at the end of this school year after 30 years teaching in Arizona classrooms 19 of them right here at PHS Siler's first play of his final season is "Robin of Sherwood," a new take on the Robin Hood legend that features a whole lot of raucous swordfighting. The play premiers in the PHS auditorium Thursday evening, with a Friday afternoon matinee and a third and final performance Saturday evening.
The play is co-authored by Siler and buddy Vern Harden, a playwright who lived in Payson for many years before moving to Colorado. Several of Harden's plays have been performed by Siler's students over the years.
The two teamed up to rewrite the tale of the legendary hero who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor because they couldn't find a version with the right combination of clean language, good plot and interesting characters. What they have come up with is a tongue-in-cheek variation with lots of female roles and some unusual characters created strictly for comic relief.
"This one features the mother of John and Richard, who was Eleanor of Aquitaine," Siler said. "In the show, she is an evil, bad lady. There are also a lot of peasant women in the show who have conflicts with the sheriff's men. In the end they win, of course."
Among the new characters written into the play is one named Dink.
"He's a smallish guy," Siler said, with a chuckle. "He's a real backstabber who is strictly in there for comedy."
But "Robin of Sherwood" also has its serious moments, and plenty of action throughout. In fact, Siler has put a lot of time and energy into teaching his students the finer points of feigned fighting.
"I teach combat," he said. "It's part of what I teach in my beginning classes."
But while his students normally use dowel rods to learn the intricacies of swordfighting, they will be armed with "genuine" Pakistani replica swords when they take to the stage later this week. The weapons were purchased through a Prescott Valley sword and knife shop.
"The key is to block out each strike, each move, each piece of the action," Siler said. "Nothing is left to chance, so nobody gets hurt. We dull the edges of the blade and the point so it won't cut. We try to absolutely minimize the danger to the student."
One of the techniques Siler has taught his students is to stay just out of range of a foe's scimitar.
"It still looks good, but if someone misses (a move) he doesn't hit the kid," Siler said.
Senior Andrew Steedman is Robin Hood in the upcoming PHS production, while sophomore Rick Stern plays the Sheriff of Nottingham. Other major characters include Eleanor of Aquitane, played by senior Nicole Neff; Maid Marion, played by sophomore Anita Meggitt; Prince John, played by junior Billy Chester; and King Richard, portrayed by senior Randy Perham.
Curtain time for the Thursday and Saturday performances is 7:30 p.m. The Friday matinee begins at 2 p.m.
Tickets, which are available at the door, are $3 for adults, $2 for students and seniors, and $1 for Renaissance cardholders. Thespian Society members will be admitted free.
Besides encouraging attendance by local residents, Siler would also like to have community input following the show.
"We'd really like to know if they like what they've seen," he said. "We'd like their suggestions for future shows."
Although he's in his final year at PHS, Siler is keeping his plans for the future indefinite.
"I have no idea what I'm going to be doing next year no clue whatsoever," he said. "But I guess the good Lord will provide."