FORTVILLE — Zoe Hatfield could not contain her excitement at being cast as the title character in “Mulan Jr.” The 13-year-old had performed smaller roles in previous productions at Ten West Center for the Arts, but she’d never scored a lead role.
Another actor might be nervous, but not Zoe. She is thankful to directors for casting her.
“They believed in me, so that gives me more confidence,” Zoe said.
A cast of 21 actors between the ages of 8 and 18 will present Disney’s “Mulan Jr.” July 14 to 17 at the Ten West Center for the Arts, 10 W. Church St.
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“Mulan Jr.” retells a Chinese folktale about a young girl whose aging father has been drafted into the army to fight the invading Huns. Knowing that he would never survive the rigors of war, she takes his armor to disguise herself as a man and goes in his place. Her ever-watchful ancestors try to prevent this by ordering a tiny disgraced dragon, Mushu, to dissuade her, but when he meets Mulan, he decides to help her instead.
The selection of “Mulan Jr.” for Ten West’s summer musical was a group decision, said Andrew Okerson, events coordinator for Ten West and set designer for the show. The directing staff looked for a production that could serve as a learning experience, with a cultural aspect that would impact the kids, Okerson said.
“Diving into another culture is so eye-opening, and even if they’re just learning to pronounce foreign words correctly, it’s still an experience you don’t get if you’re stuck in Indiana,” Okerson said.
The hallmark of Ten West productions lies in the youth of its leadership. Directors Ryan Dockery, a recent Mt. Vernon High School graduate bound for Purdue, and Stephani McDole, a sophomore music major at Ball State, have ample experience in acting and directing Ten West productions dating back to 2013.
Credit for the traditional Asian style of the choreography goes to choreographer and dance coach Erica Lohman, who just finished her sophomore year at Mt. Vernon. The show is by young people and for young people, the team says.
Mya Adams, 10, a returning actor to the Ten West stage after last year’s production of “The Little Mermaid,” was thrilled to be cast in the part of Mushu, Mulan’s dragon guardian.
“It was the exact part I wanted,” Mya said.
Mya relates to Mushu’s big personality and likes acting out his sassy, self-important and irresponsible character.
“I wouldn’t say I’m better than anybody else, but I do have a big personality,” Mya said. “Mushu also has a caring side and I’m like that, too.”
Memorizing all of Mushu’s lines presents Mya’s biggest challenge. Mushu has long paragraphs, she said. She also sings a short solo in the song, “Honor to Us All,” but she’s not nervous.
“I don’t usually get nervous during the show because I’ve had practice,” Mya said.
Bryce Hatfield, a Pendleton Heights freshman, didn’t audition for the show with any specific part in mind, but he loves the part of Fa Zhou, Mulan’s father.
“I love wise fatherly characters, and that’s exactly what Fa Zhou is,” Bryce said.
Bryce’s approach to developing his character for Fa Zhou involves practicing the lines with different emotions and inflections in an effort sound both worried and hopeful at the same time.
“I keep working on the best way to say the line until I get it perfect,” Bryce said.
He looks to his own father as a character model for Fa Zhou.
“I talk to my dad. He’s a really good father,” Bryce said.
As older brother to Zoe, cast as Mulan, getting into character as a caring and concerned father becomes easier.
“Mulan is my sister, so I think of my sister getting into that kind of situation,” Bryce said.
As Mulan, Zoe Hatfield validates the impact of the production through her connection to her character.
“Mulan didn’t understand why she couldn’t go to war and fight,” Zoe said. “If I was in a society like that, I would definitely be the one that would not just want stand by and be a wife and cook.”
There might not have been a word for it in ancient China, but Zoe said she believes that Mulan may have been one of the first feminists.
“Even if there are rules that are setting you back,” she said, “you shouldn’t stop doing what you believe is right.”
WHAT: “Mulan Jr.”
WHERE: Ten West Center for the Arts, 10 W. Church St., Fortville
WHEN: July 14, 15, 17 at 7 p.m.; July 18 at 2:30 p.m.
HOW TO GET TICKETS: Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for children (plus a service fee) online at http://tenwestcenter.org/mulan