REENFIELD — Friday and Saturday night, some 70 children will take the stage at Greenfield-Central High School to present “Dorothy in Wonderland” — a musical in which the worlds of Oz and Wonderland collide — as the Hancock County Children’s Theatre workshop presents its annual production.
Under the leadership of Pam Johnson, who has been with the program for 24 years, students from all four Hancock County school districts have been singing, acting and dancing through a four-week rehearsal period leading up to their final performances this weekend.
This summer arts program for children Grades 4 through 8 pulls off a full-scale, full-length musical in a relatively short time span by rotating groups of kids through rehearsals in choreography, music and acting. And if that doesn’t sound chaotic enough, the show is double-cast so that different actors play lead and supporting roles for one show and perform with the chorus for the other performance.
“It’s so more kids can be on stage,” Johnson said. “Each cast develops its own personality. I love giving children the opportunity to develop their creative abilities. If you want to see something different, come both nights.”
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Katie Brown, 12, a student at Eastern Hancock Middle School, has been cast in Friday’s performance as Alice. She thinks that double-casting is a challenge.
“You have to learn your own songs for your main part,” Brown said, “and then you have to learn all the dances and different parts of the songs for when you’re in the chorus.”
Abby Brown, 14, also from Eastern, is in her last year of the workshop. She will be playing the role of Dorothy in the Friday night cast.
“It’s a good experience,” Brown said. “You have room to do whatever you want with your character.”
Tyler Pipkin, who will attend Doe Creek Middle School as an eighth-grader, has participated in the summer program for the past four years. He plays the Wizard in both the Friday and Saturday night shows.
“The show is exciting,” Pipkin said. “There is singing and dancing in the aisles.”
But it isn’t just performance skills the kids are learning. Johnson is quick to point out that all behind-the-scenes work — set-building, painting, poster and t-shirt design, lighting and sound, changing sets — is done by kids, too.
Pipkin’s younger sister, Brooke, is a sixth-grader participating for the first time. She is helping paint and build the set and has put most of her effort toward a hot air balloon for the wizard, made out of wood and Styrofoam.
“The balloon is for me,” Tyler Pipkin said, smiling.
Johnson takes great care in choosing each year’s script. She has done a variety of shows through the years and looks for something different every year, sometimes reading three or four scripts before she picks the show. She looks for storyline and listens to the music.
“I want a variety of characters, an age-appropriate show and good music,” Johnson said.
In addition to Johnson and her staff, which includes Parrish Williams, a teacher from Warren Central, as acting director; Della Benefiel as music director; Anne Tilley as choreographer and dance coach; Mary Haberman as costumer; and Jeff Weiland as the technical director, the program attracts student helpers — alumni who are now too old to participate but just can’t stay away.
Zane Roberts, a 2015 Mt. Vernon graduate, has volunteered every summer since he graduated from the program.
Roberts is assigned to help with dance and has even choreographed small parts of the show. He applauds Johnson’s show selection for this year.
“There’s no romance,” Roberts said. “It’s just about friendship this year. It’s really hard to get the kids to act like they like each other.”
The story of this year’s show is one that will really appeal to children, Johnson said. Dorothy ends up in Wonderland and meets all the characters of that land including the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the March Hare.
Johnson especially loves the message of the show, as voiced by the character of Glinda the Good Witch: “Sometimes it’s better to take the journey instead of simply skipping to the end.”
“It’s such a wonderful life lesson to the kids,” Johnson said.
“Dorothy in Wonderland” shows Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Greenfield-Central High School auditorium, 810 N. Broadway St. Tickets are $6 at the door.