By Randall Beach, New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — During a performance Friday at Long Wharf Theatre, eight middle schoolers grappled with the complexity of portraying evil characters who learn to work together and appreciate nature.

“What I learned is, it’s a lot more fun being evil,” said August Hotis, 10, with a little smile after the presentation of “The Nightmare on Evil Street.”

He and his friends are students at the Connecticut Experiential Learning Center in Branford. Some home-schooled students also participated.

Every year CELC works with Long Wharf Theatre’s education staff to produce an original play related to the theme of ecology and sustainability. The effort is also linked to the theater’s three “pillars” of creativity, empathy and teamwork.

Before parents of the students were seated in an upstairs performance room Friday afternoon, CELC co-founder and educator Melinda Alcosser described the school’s mission as “offering engaging academics combined with real-world learning for 5th to 8th grade students.”

Alcosser noted the parents were encouraged to come to the theater with donations of hats, gloves and scarves for children who recently arrived in the New Haven area from Puerto Rico and Mexico. Both of those areas have been hit by devastating natural disasters.

Shortly before the 30-minute performance began, Madelyn Newman, the theater’s director of education, said she values the program because it is so collaborative and focuses on individual needs of students.

Jared Michaud, a Yale junior who is a Dwight Hall Urban Fellow working part-time at the theater, told the parents it was interesting directing the play because “we started without a script or any plan of what was going to happen.”

He said this is called “devised theater.”

Michaud said the kids came up with the idea of creating evil characters, all of them students at “The Evil School.” But gradually they discover the importance of teamwork and preserving nature.

Near the end of the show, a character played by Gray Storlazzi said: “I learned that working together as a group isn’t the worst idea in the world.”

After the performance, Michaud noted the students had decided not to go with the usual story book ending of evil characters becoming wonderful human beings. “They didn’t want to all be nice but they wanted to get across the idea of respecting nature.”

Matt Goldblum, 10, another cast member, said, “It was really fun watching the play come together.”

The other performers were: Izzy Wiltshire, Lorenzo Dalton, Nick Straka, Emma MartinMooney and Addie Morrissey.

[email protected]