Theatre ‘boot camp’ this summer will be a wild time

“The Little Mermaid Jr.” was performed in 2019 during Stillwater Community Education’s summer theatre program, which was taught by Zephyr Theatre staff. (Submitted photo)

“The Little Mermaid Jr.” was performed in 2019 during Stillwater Community Education’s summer theatre program, which was taught by Zephyr Theatre staff. (Submitted photo)

Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Alex the lion, and Gloria the hippo will sing and dance their way into adventure in “Madagascar Jr.” in Stillwater this summer. And there is still time for eager actors entering grades three through nine to join the theatre fun.

The youth theatre program offered through Stillwater Community Education will be an intensive “boot camp.” The program will be held weekdays June 5-25 at Stillwater Area High School. Performances will be held June 25-27 at the high school. 

Theatre professionals from The Zephyr Theatre will teach singing, dancing, and acting skills. “And we’ll have a lot of fun,” said Cassidy Hall, The Zephyr’s Young Actors Theatre director who will be director, teacher, and wild animal trainer during the summer session.

How could it not be fun for kids to dress up like animals — Hall has promised some crazy costumes — and be encouraged to walk like animals, talk like animals, and make beastly noises. 

Most of the youngsters enrolling in the class will be familiar with the animated movie storyline: Restless zoo animals escape their confines, end up on a ship hijacked by renegade penguins, and then are stranded on an island overrun by lemurs. 

Most enrollees will already know the lyrics to some of the 18 songs in this “Jr.” production. When a ring-tailed lemur first breaks out into “I Like to Move It,” Hall expects many of the actors will be immediately singing and dancing with that fast-paced, hip-wagging music.

What the kids may not be familiar with is the art of stagecraft. During this crash course in theatre, the actors will learn stage presence, how to project their voices, how to connect with the audience, and, always important, how to work as a team.

The overriding theme of “Madagascar Jr.” is about friends helping friends. On the island, when the carnivorous Alex the lion gets really hungry, his friends work together to figure out a creative — and safe — way to feed him. Because, let’s face it, friends do not eat friends. 

“What’s great about doing these shows in particular is the mix of ages,” Hall said. “The younger kids can learn from what the older, more experienced kids are doing. And often, the older kids assume mentor roles.”

“We make sure everyone has their chance to shine,” Hall said. Helping Hall make sure those shining moments happen will be Zephyr professionals Stephen Neff, vocal coach, and Robin Holien, choreographer. 

This is the fifth summer The Zephyr Theatre has participated with Stillwater Community Ed to offer a youth theatre program. Previous programs mined kid favorites — “Lion King Jr.,” “Mulan Jr.,” and “The Little Mermaid Jr.”

Even last year, during heavy COVID-19 restrictions, the summer program continued. “Seussical Jr.” was practiced and performed with only 10 kids per cast — that took some creative planning! — and all kids stayed 10 feet apart. The performance was videotaped and made available for home audiences.

This year, the casts will be bigger and the social distance will be smaller, but current COVID-19 rules will apply.

Registration fee $179. For more information, go to commed.stillwaterschools.org/theatre.

Trail treats

The renovated train trolley car resting on tracks between the Brown’s Creek Trail and The Zephyr Theatre is selling refreshments from 7 a.m. to noon Thursdays through Sundays. The handy rest stop, dubbed Traintrax Snacks, offers hot coffee, cold bottled water and juice, and portable snacks, including beef jerky, trail mix, and dried fruit mix — all acquired from local vendors.

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