Beginning this weekend, the Passion for Acting Theatre Company in collaboration with WILLow LeaVes of Hope will present an adaptation of the beloved children’s classic “The Secret Garden” written by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Producer and assistant director Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor says she and her daughter, Kathryn, adapted the story to the stage as part of their ongoing presentation of the classics, Baylor says.

“We did ‘The Miracle Worker’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables,’” she says. “I have really enjoyed doing the classics.”

However, as “The Secret Garden” has traditionally been adapted for the screen, it has not been broadly offered as a stage production. And therein lies the opportunity to exercise one’s creative talents, Baylor says.

Baylor admits taking the original novel and condensing it down to a comfortable two-hour production without losing its original charm was a bit challenging.

“It is a beautifully written story and very lyrical in its descriptions,” she says. “So it was difficult to cut that down some because there are things you want to make sure you get in and not leave out too much of the beautiful detail.”

“The Secret Garden” is the story of Mary Lennox, an orphaned girl who travels to England from India to live with her uncle following the death of her parents to cholera in the early 1900s. A sour child, Lennox is not the most pleasant person to be around, but when she meets Ben Weatherstaff, the garden’s caretaker, she is introduced to the magic of the secret garden and that is when things change. Lennox’s chilly demeanor begins to thaw as she is introduced to the botanical and animal life of the garden – what to her is a different world from anything she’s ever known.

“The fresh air is good for her and she sees things come alive,” says director Gregory Andis.”She makes friends, so there are lots of good themes that run through there. They call it magic, but the magic of the garden is what sets her spirit free to soar.”

Hope resident Rachel Hoke was hand-picked by Baylor and Kathryn to portray the lead of Mary Lennox both for her talent as well as her ability to pull off the role so well, Baylor says.

Hoke says she loved the book as a child and has seen many film adaptations of the work, which is something she draws on to bring her character to life.

“I love the development Mary goes through,” Hoke says. “She’s a very complex character and I love trying to crack how I should be portraying her in that moment and how she would react.”

As Andis says he essentially left the adaptation to Baylor and Kathryn, he’s concentrated on directing and tackling how to overcome challenges of set design and execution.

The greatest challenge has been crafting an effective and aesthetically pleasing transition from English manor to magical garden and back again, Andis says.

Baylor admits that bringing this show to the stage and minimizing the interpretive challenges has truly been a community effort. When it came to addressing the trickiness of set design, she enlisted the help of area artists who she commissioned to paint the rolling panels that will give the story its picturesque backdrop.

“We are doing some creative things with the set that I hope people will appreciate and enjoy,” Andis says. “There’s only so much space that we have and only so many theatre tricks we can pull out of our back pocket. We are going to try to make it a pleasurable visual experience and an all around feel good theatrical experience for people to come out and enjoy.”

Andis isn’t just wearing his director’s cap, he’s also taking the stage alongside Hoke and seven other cast members as he portrays the old gardener.

Playing what he describes as a “cranky guy” isn’t too much of a stretch for him, Andis admits, as he sees he has a lot in common with the caretaker.

The difficulty comes when the old gardener speaks.

“The real challenge is in some of the language because the character is decidedly Yorkshire and the way that the text is written both in the novel and adaptation, we use a lot of Yorkshire-isms along the way,” Andis says. “So, that part is a little challenging because normally you don’t memorize dialogue that way because you are used to memorizing regular words, but when you are doing a colloquialism like that it is a bit tougher on the brain.And I don’t memorize in my 50s the way I did in my 20s and 30s.”

With rehearsals wrapping up and opening night just days away, Hoke shares the hope of everyone involved in the production that this show is a hit.

“I really do hope to see a lot of people there,” Hoke says. “I would love to see younger children because it is a children’s story. It portrays a good theme that some people are hurting and they just need to be uplifted and seen to really change and be the person they should be if they have good influences. I love it so much; I hope a lot of people come to see it.”