UM Stages Spooky Adaptation of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ this Halloween

UM students rehearse their production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which opens Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Masquer Theatre. (UM Photo by Coral Scoles-Coburn.)

By Abigail Lauten-Scrivner, UM News Service

MISSOULA – Spooky spirits and ghastly ghouls will descend upon the University of Montana a little ahead of Halloween this year – just in time to bring frightening festivities to UM’s Family Weekend.

The Headless Horseman, Ichabod Crane and a cast of other eerie characters will ride onto campus for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” opening 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, at UM’s Masquer Theatre. The show runs through Saturday, Nov. 4, including a special screening on Halloween night. 

The student-run show is a playful reimagining of Washington Irving’s classic tale that will spook and delight audience members of all ages. Community members and loved ones visiting for Family Weekend are invited to take part in the storytelling. 

“We’re looking to create a family-friendly experience that we can bring people into, because part of our contention is that the audience is part of the story and we need you to help us tell it,” said Mike Post, an associate professor of theater and interim director of UM’s School of Theatre and Dance. 

“It’s a ghost story. We’re all going to sit around the campfire and tell it.”

The play was spurred when Post realized one of this year’s shows would span both Family Weekend and Halloween. He went on the hunt for a script that was both ghoulish and kid friendly (which, unfortunately, ruled out “Evil Dead the Musical”). “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” checked the appropriate boxes. 

Seated in the black-box-style Masquer Theatre, meaning the stage is in the middle of the audience, play-goers can expect an immersive show. The audience will be invited into the play, as actors break the wall between performer and spectator through direct address. Innovative video projections will enhance the story’s ambiance by illuminating screens that surround the audience. 

While not altogether new, video projection as a storytelling technique in theater has become more sophisticated, and audiences can expect to see it employed at future UM shows.

“It's tricky, because you don’t want people focusing on the projection, you want them focusing on your story. But it can become an incredibly powerful element within the storytelling itself,” Post said. “We can actually surround the audience with projection for more of an immersive experience.”

Attendees also can participate in an audience costume contest. The winner will be announced at the Halloween show, which will start at 7 p.m. – a half hour earlier than other evening showings to accommodate evening Halloween celebrations.  

“It’s going to be a really fun time,” Post said. “Our kids are amazing, and I want to make sure we’re giving them all the opportunities we can to learn more about what they’re doing and have a good time doing it.”

The script was adapted from Irving’s original 1820 short story by UM MFA directing candidate JM Christiansen, who also is directing the show. 

“I love working with students and using the principles of theater in my directing as a way to teach storytelling, relationship with the audience and the kind of self-confidence and use of your body and voice that theater is so good at teaching,” he said.

Christiansen is in the final year of his MFA and has completed his thesis production, a staging of “The Odyssey” that toured a number of schools throughout Montana earlier this year. During his time at UM, he taught courses ranging from introduction to acting to dramatic literature and more. Enrolling at the University allowed him to explore his interdisciplinary interests in art and scholarship. After he completes his MFA, Christiansen plans to continue on at the University to earn a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies.

With his adaptation of “Sleepy Hollow,” Christiansen wanted to show an admiration for the original text by staying true to its gothic atmosphere and playful language while also challenging some of the story’s archaic notions. Christiansen hopes audiences find the story’s updates amusing and engaging.  

“I’m always interested in people coming to see theater and having a unique experience,” Christiansen said. “It’s always my hope that an audience who comes to see a show I’m working on leaves thinking, ‘That was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, and I’m fascinated by the fact that I had to be there to see it.’” 

Campus community members visiting UM during Family Weekend can choose from various “Sleepy Hollow” showtimes Oct. 26-29. A $10 donation is suggested at the door. A list of other Family Weekend happenings is available online

“The audience can expect it to be sort of a spooky, weird environment that will be fun for Halloween-time,” Christiansen said. “It should be a great evening of laughter and fun stories.”


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,