Rural School Brings Big Production to the Emerson Theatre
The Little Mermaid
by Angie Ripple
For the past 23 years, The Little Red Schoolhouse production team at Anderson School has brought full-length, high-quality performances to an eager audience with up to 85 3rd-8th grade student actors. This year’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with sea mermaids on heelies and seahorses on hoverboards, professional-quality scenery projections and wildly colorful and creative costumes, will not disappoint.
Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner, Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World.”
The Little Red Schoolhouse production of The Little Mermaid will be led by Anderson School veterans, Stephani Lourie and Laurie Kinna. We asked Stephani and Laurie a few questions about what it takes to bring such a large production to life.
Angie Ripple: What does it take to pull off a production like The Little Mermaid? Who is involved? What is the process?
Laurie Kinna: It takes a community of people to pull off productions like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, last year’s production. Many people are involved making sets, props, costumes, etc. Many are parents of students in the play, but many are not - their “actors” have already graduated and moved on to high school and even college. We have a core group that puts in hours and hours for many months making costumes and props for 80 plus kids - most of which are double or even triple cast which means they need more than one costume. Currently our production crew is meeting several nights a week and most every weekend creating amazingness for our cast.
The process of each production starts almost right after the end of the previous year’s show. As soon as we close our show, the question becomes, “What are you going to do next?” Usually by June, Steph and I have started previewing shows looking for the right one. It is difficult finding musicals where we can incorporate 80 plus 3rd through 8th grade kids. Once we have chosen and reserved the rights to our musical, the Emerson is booked for our shows, and the costume and prop crew start to roll. Many meetings are held getting everybody on the same page and the fun begins. Auditions are held about three months before our show dates. Even though we have auditions for the bigger roles, no one is cut from our productions - anyone who wants to be in our play, gets to be. Rehearsals run for about 10 weeks.
Stephani Lourie: For The Little Mermaid, we have the challenge of creating an underwater world. Many of our performers will be on wheeled devices and shoes: The mermaids will be in heelies, the seahorses on hoverboards, and one young actor riding an electric unicycle with a school of fish attached to his body. Also, this year, we will be piloting animated projections as our background. Projections are gaining great traction in the theatre world, and now the technology is available to non-professional (amateur) production companies. It’s a technical leap for us; however, we have had our eyes on the approach for awhile.
AR: Who is playing Ariel? How much time will the student put into learning the role?
LK: Phoebe Tripp is Ariel. She is an Anderson 6th grader.
SL: We cast our plays to focus on the ensemble elements. We add many group moments, inserting characters as much as we can, into scenes and songs. So while Ariel, is, well, Ariel, there are many leads in this production. In fact, one of the reasons we chose this script is that there are so many really good pairs and opportunities for students to shine. Scuttle, Ursula, Eric, Triton, Sebastian, Flounder and Grimsby are all hearty parts with solos, great challenges, strong comedic moments and storytelling. Our primary focus is giving students as many opportunities as we can. Our cast members have grown up with the concept of, “share the love.” They expect us, as directors, to create as many large ensemble scenes as we can. We look specifically for shows that lend themselves to showcasing many, many students.
AR: What are the best parts of creating a school play?
LK: I think though that number one for me is working with the kids and seeing the growth they make throughout the whole production. I love sharing my passion for music and for the arts with kids, and I love helping create something that the kids can feel very proud of and that they will remember for a lifetime.
SL: The shared purpose of creating art in a community of both kids and adults is a powerfully bonding endeavor. Kids are developing life-long skills, confidence and a passion for the arts.
Laurie reiterated that Anderson School’s drama productions wouldn’t be what they are without a whole community of committed people and without the support of our school staff, administrator, and school board. Several people from the support team weighed in in agreement, and with praise for Stephani and Laurie.
Parent Melea Mortenson, mother to eight current and former Anderson students says “Stephani Lourie and Laurie Kinna are incredibly talented, hard-working, patient, creative teachers, who are committed to helping each student who participates have a positive experience. Whether they are the star of the show, like our son Peter, who played Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” his 8th grade year to the group scene member, like our daughter Charity, who has Down Syndrome, who played a villager and several other group scenes, or our daughter Eliza who came back after graduating to work backstage.....each one learns that what they are doing matters and is important. Each is taught how to improv if the others around them forget their lines. They were taught to really understand the story and make themselves a part of it, so they could act in a meaningful way. They learned their lines very early on, so by the time they were performing they felt confident and ready, in fact, it was almost second nature to them. I’m not even going to try to tell you about the incredible, over the top homemade costumes and sets that the parents of the community make...this is a great team effort, and such a cool thing to be a part of. ‘It takes a village,’ and this village of the Anderson Drama program is extraordinary.”
Parent Julie Wyman says Anderson has the “best drama department in any school. Every year, Laurie and Steph raise the bar a little and we all hurdle over it! We are all so proud to see such productions come to life. The ladies have created the best environment for both children and parents to work hard, be creative and have a lot of fun. We are so grateful to be a part of it year after year.”
Anderson Superintendent Scott McDowell says, “I have been fortunate to be a part of the play for the last 4 years as the Superintendent and the last 2 years as a parent. During this time I have done everything from help manage students backstage, ride the bus to rehearsals, assist in the lobby, and even be on stage. I am fortunate to also have a backstage pass throughout the year to work with our passionate teachers and experience the dedication of our parents and community members. Each year people are inspired by the acting, singing, and the costumes. However, I am most inspired by the fact that we provide an opportunity to every child in 3rd-8th grade that wants to be in the play, regardless of their abilities or challenges. Through their endless enthusiasm and energy, the directors Stephani Lourie and Laurie Kinna, ensure that every child has an experience that builds self confidence and a joy for the arts through creative expression, teamwork, critical thinking, and fun! I have been in a lot of schools over the last 20 years and this is without a doubt the most unique and inspiring experience I have ever been a part of as a dad, teacher, coach, or administrator. The program, the students, and the people are beyond special.”
The underwater adventure of The Little Mermaid will delight audiences on April 20 and 21 on the Emerson Cultural Center’s Crawford Theatre stage. Show times are Friday, April 20 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 21 at 12 (noon) and 7pm. All seating is reserved. Tickets are available online at ShowTix4U, and at the door. Cost is $10 for the main floor and $7 for balcony seating. Don’t miss it!