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Into the Woods Marks the Dreekes' Final Performance

Into the Woods Marks the Dreekes' Final Performance
Meredith Berry-Toon

Following 28 years of being the theater department at Canterbury School, this weekend's performance of "Into the Woods" marked Maddie and Robin Dreeke's final production at the School. Maddie, Director of Drama, and Robin, Director of Technical Theater, have literally run the show since 1990. While their involvement was purely accidental - Maddie was initially hired as an English teacher - both she and Robin have made a monumental and tangible impact on the School's theater productions. The couple has planned their retirement at the end of the 2017-18 School Year, 61 performances and thousands of student-actors later.

Maddie began her career at Canterbury in 1990 in the English Department and as a dorm parent. She transitioned seamlessly into community life at Canterbury as she had spent the second half of her career teaching after the pair chose to move to New Fairfield from New York City to raise their son. The couple, feeling restless and sensing their impending empty nest syndrome once their son left for college, actively chose to join a boarding school, drawn in by the all-consuming nature of the job. They happily moved into Carmody House and became new parents for nearly 50 male students. While Maddie worked in the classroom, Robin continued to do freelance work as a theater technician outside of the school community.

As often is the case in boarding schools, Maddie and Robin became the de facto directors of the theater because the School needed faculty to step into the role, and the pair inadvertently had the work experience. While they had not been heavily involved in professional theater productions since moving to the suburbs nearly 20 years prior, their technical background was easily unearthed. Maddie, already a teacher, transitioned over time into the Fine Arts Department, while Robin, who was still doing freelance work, was softly nudged into the role by the School. He struck a deal to become a full-time employee and dropped the majority of his outside work. With his guidance, the Fine Arts Department began to offer a technical theater elective for students. He quickly gained a following of eager students to work with him on the sets — those who were good with their hands, who could and wanted to help hammer, climb ladders, and use a nail gun. With each passing year, he has maintained a steady stream of loyal alumni that continue to help him on current productions or have otherwise entered the technical profession.

As the theater department flourished under the oversight of the Dreekes, Canterbury's proximity to their prior home in New Fairfield became an asset for the couple—and the School. They both had continued to work with an acting troupe in the area during their summer months, so when the troupe closed in 1997, the self-entitled theater mafia (dozens of their actor friends) was creased into production life at Canterbury. For every performance, an assembled mass of professional actors were enlisted to help with the set design and script. "They have been waiting for us to retire for years," Robin chuckled.

Once the Dreekes took over the fall, winter, and spring plays, theater at Canterbury became something else. In 1994, the Dreekes brought in a local actor to teach the Cockney dialect for "My Fair Lady." So many people showed up for the 1996 spring production of "Grease" that Canterbury had to turn hopeful attendees away from the auditorium door. During "Bye, Bye, Birdie" in 2000, the cast finished the play via flashlight to receive a standing ovation after the School lost power during the intermission. Robin built a transportable, foldable ship for "Pirates of Penzance" in 2005, modeled after the "Golden Hind", a ship in London near the Globe stage. While each new play brought its own challenges, successes, and memories, one of the most universally acclaimed productions of the Dreekes was "Noises Off." As Maddie relayed herself, "It was an absolute nightmare, and the best play we ever did." For the performance, Robin built a two-story revolving set with seven separate doors. Noted in "Canterbury: the First Ninety Years," the production "earned its place as one of the most memorable theater performances at [the School] (246)."

While Maddie drifted toward working solely in the Fine Arts Department, it was her idea and pure love of Shakespeare that inspired the English Department to be the fall all-School Shakespeare read. At her prompting, the entire student body started to read one Shakespeare play then attend her student-run theater production of the same book. Maddie encouraged English teachers to invite the student actors into their classrooms, to ask them to perform any of a myriad of scenes from the book or to request a monologue and to explore an in-depth analysis of their characters. She would provide study guides for each English class and a children's version of the play for faculty kids. The tradition continues to the present day: this past fall's play was "Much Ado About Nothing."

Selected as the recipients of the Duffy Travel Grant in 1998 (the second year the grant was available), the couple traveled to Britain for several weeks and navigated the countryside as if old country actors. There, as they met brilliant actors and influential contacts, the two birthed their famous March break London Globe trip. Following that year, Maddie and Robin organized an annual trip to London for a select group of nine students to attend a week of classes at the Shakespeare Globe Theater. From 1999 through 2008, the Dreekes brought almost 100 students for an unforgettable trip of full-day theater classes and a nightly dinner and show routine. "The students were always so excited to be there," noted Maddie. "And the Globe actors would then become so much more visibly passionate during the workshops because they could sense it in our students." The Globe classroom would become a hub of ideas, inspirited with the palpable buzz of the young actors. The Dreekes would then return to the U.S. with a host of new visions for Canterbury's productions and their students with even more enthusiasm for engaging in theater.

Through their theater work and as general members of this boarding school community, the Dreekes have shaped generations of the School. "They gave me confidence and made me part of a theatrical 'family' at Canterbury... and gave me some of my best Canterbury memories," noted Ashley Gangi '08. While a dorm parent in Carmody, Robin would host infamous ping-pong tournaments, and many alumnae have reported that their most beloved Canterbury recollection is winter sledding with the couple. "When I first came to Canterbury, [Robin] was one of the first people I met, and he made me feel welcome and part of the community," remarked Leila Stepankiw, a longtime colleague of the Dreekes. Maddie was awarded the yearbook dedication in 2001 and was honored as the Women of the Year by the Women of Canterbury in 2009. "The Dreekes set my life on an undeniable course," noted Matt Goodrich '05. "Since my first show at Canterbury, no matter what, I have always returned to the theater. I cannot thank them enough for leading this awkward, lonely kid to his forever home." The Kenneth C. Mard Jr. Endowment for the Dramatic Arts, established in 2010 by Elizabeth Mard in remembrance of her husband, was created because of the Dreekes inspiration as faculty members: "My late husband felt the academic education our son, Kenneth C. Mard III, '99 received from 1995-99, and the skills learned from the dramatic arts program under the guidance of Robin and Maddie Dreeke, formed the essential foundation for his success in college and his career." Ken Mard '99 continues to be an integral member of the Theater Department and helped Robin assemble the "Into the Woods" stage.

2018 has been a monumental year for the Dreekes personally as well as professional — the couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Maddie and Robin met in New York in the late 60s. Robin, a member of the Marine Corps at the time, while Maddie was taking dance classes and finding work as a professional actor. The two were introduced through a mutual friend and married within five months — and have forged a remarkable career and life side-by-side since.

"What Maddie and Robin have envisioned, built, and sustained at Canterbury is both marvelous and magical," remarked Head of School Rachel Stone. "Their partnership, in combination with a true, deep understanding of both teenagers and theater, are at the center of fabulous productions and joyful casts and crews. I am grateful to have seen their final six shows." Fine Arts Chair Kim Tester noted, "Having worked with the Dreeke's for over 20 years it is hard to put into words the depth of their positive impact on our community. Maddie and Robin have guided and supported our students to discover something new about themselves as individuals. These experiences have offered students a chance to 'work outside of the box', creating opportunities to learn lifelong lessons. They will be missed."

Maddie and Robin will be honored during Alumni Weekend on the evening of Friday, June 8 at the Curtain Calls & Cocktails event. Registration and video submission for the event is still open on our website here.

Photos of Into the Woods