Saranac Lake students learn local history through drama

SARANAC LAKE – Seventh graders took to the stage in the auditorium of the Petrova Elementary/Middle School Friday afternoon, learning about local history through a series of theatrical sketches, accompanied by the historic photography of the era.

The student project “History through our eyes” was brought together by Amy Catania, of Historic Saranac Lake, and David Zwierankin, the managing director of Pendragon Theatre. Middle school teacher Don Carlisto narrated some of the scenes.

“We try to work with a lot of teachers and grades,” Catania said. “We came up with this, bringing photography and theater together.”

Catania and her group have previously worked with high schoolers and fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Zwierankin, who helped the students practice their routines prior to the performances, gave the students a pep talk before they went on stage.

“You guys have done some really fantastic work,” Zwierankin said. “You should be proud of yourselves.”

A pair of local bootlegging tales were first to be acted out.

The elusive Saranac Lake bootlegger and stone mason Pietro Tanzini, played by seventh grader Bruno Freeman in a nifty hat, escaped from a cardboard box by smashing it to the ground. It was one of his many escapes from the police.

Bootleggers Dutch Schultz and Eddie and his brother Jack “Legs” Diamond weren’t so lucky. They were caught red handed after a pair of 4-foot-tall police officers on the stage discovered crates marked “potatoes” to, in fact, be moonshine. There was a brawl between the five boys, and the police got the better of them. Arrests were made, and the three criminals were thrown in the back of a paddy wagon.

The mystery of how the Pontiac Theater burned down, interviews with famous 1980 Olympic champions and the story of the Native American princess Oseetah were some of the other historical moments acted out by the students.

“It’s fun for them to see what their peers have put together, they learn that way, too,” Catania said.

The process of researching local history was done by the students, each assigned in different groups. The students chose their own topics.

“This project kind of goes back a few years,” Catania said. “We hosted a teacher’s workshop and they came in the summer and met for a few days and the teachers brainstormed the project.”