Teachers are noticing students are already benefiting from rehearsals for Saratoga School’s first-time musical production.
“Disney’s Alice in Wonderland” is bringing together junior high students with interests in music and drama at an age notorious for cliques.
“Kids who are not normally friends are working together for this,” said co-director and Saratoga choir teacher Kim Struck. “They are finding people out there with interests similar to theirs and are making new friends... Musicals and dramas build self-esteem and confidence in students, and it helps them get creative. It’s neat to see.”
Struck is working with Saratoga reading specialist and literary coach Rita Gemmer and Grundy County Special Education Cooperative aide and Morris Theatre Guild member Ron Logsdon to produce and direct the musical. Saratoga has put on two plays in the last two years – “The Wizard of Oz” and “Snow White” – but this is their first stab at a more complicated musical.
“Our kids here are so talented,” Struck said, “and the choir is growing. We wanted to tie in the choir and the kids who are into drama.”
About half of the actors in the play are in choir. There is drama action, dancing numbers, and three-part harmony melodies.
Gemmer began the Drama Club at Saratoga three years ago, seeing the interest in her literary members and other students. This year’s musical is bringing in a variety of students.
“Some came in with no drama experience at all,” she said, “and others are used to being on stage from literary. Some are a little nervous about their first production, but they’re all working together very well. We even worked all week last week, on spring break. It was wonderful.”
The play has two students cast as Alice – one as tall Alice and the other as small Alice, as they change sizes after eating or drinking magical things. Eighth grader Olivia Thorson plays small Alice, and Avery Baetzel, a seventh grader, plays tall Alice. Both young women love music and theatre and have performed in other productions before this one.
Avery was in the recent “Wizard of Oz” musical at Morris Community High School and plans on auditioning for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Coal City Theatre Guild. She missed out on a spring break Florida vacation to work on “Alice.” She said she was excited and a little nervous when she found out she was cast in such a leading role.
“The nerves got to me a little,” she said, “but I have confidence with my voice. . . We’ve had a lot of practices. It’s coming all together. The directors are great. They want the best for us.”
Avery said the most difficult part of her role has been finding her character’s voice, but with the rehearsals, it’s coming along fine. Avery also designed the set of the musical.
Olivia loves singing and takes voice lessons. She’s been in both of the Saratoga plays, was in the high school’s “Wizard of Oz,” and was in the theatre guild’s “Annie Junior” last summer. She said being in this musical is exciting
“I think it is hard to find my character, too,” she said, “but it’s helping me prepare for future things I’ll do in front of audiences.”
Other lead roles are played by Sara Henne (Cheshire Cat One), Alyssa Larsen (Cheshire Cat Two), Dakota Heffron (White Rabbit), Jillian Hosek (Caterpillar), Bridget Byrne (Queen of Hearts), Kristin Serena (Tweedle Dee), Lexi Fatlan (Tweedle Dum), Hailey Posey (Mad Hatter), and Hannah Mueller (March Hare).
Ron Logsdon said working with the students has been a blast. Still recovering from a fall off a ladder at the Morris Theatre Guild building last summer that put him in a coma with brain damage, he said working with these students has been a wonderful and restorative experience.
“Working with these kids is totally unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I’m rejuvenated when I come in. Some of them are doing this for the very first time.”
He said he loves those moments when he can see the creative ideas “click” in the students’ minds.
Struck said the group is excited to work with the school’s new sound system, donated by the parent-teacher club and the drama club. Teacher Katie Deters will man the sound system and sixth-grade band student Hunter Welch will help.
“This play is a chance for all kids to have a musical opportunity even if they weren’t in music or band,” Struck said. “We have 26 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in the cast and another half dozen or so working with the scenery, props, costumes, and make-up. And several parents are helping us. It’s pretty exciting.”
Struck said she hopes area families will come see the play as a family outing, bringing their children or friends and family. She invites all the community, even those outside the district, to come watch a great musical.
“They can expect a fun, exciting edition of the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland, ‘” she said. “They’ll get to see students singing magical songs, and they’ll bring some laughter, too.”
Struck said the directors will see how this musical goes, then might plan another one for next year or the year after.
Tickets are on sale now at Saratoga School and can be purchased for $5 for adults and $1 for children at the north office. The musical will be on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 12, 13, and 14, at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.