Auditions for this year’s community play, “Mary Poppins,” will be Monday (May 23) and Tuesday (May 24), while audition’s for this summer’s children’s play, “Little Red Robin Hood,” are Thursday (May 19) and Friday (May 20).
Katie Wojtalewicz returns for yet another summer production this year, saying she selected “Mary Poppins” because it’s already familiar to many (and even beloved by some), but this stage version is also unique from either the P.L. Travers’ books or the famed Disney movie. The play is relatively new--in fact, this was the first year folks like Wojtalewicz could procure the performance rights--and it boasts new “awesome” songs.
“It’s big, it’s fun, there are lots of people involved,” she added. “It’s an easy sell.”
Indeed, the theater version of “Mary Poppins” offers music and lyrics written by the Academy Award-winning Sherman Brothers, along with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Furthermore, the script is by Julian Fellowes, of “Downtown Abbey” fame. (Fellowes also won an Oscar for his “Gosford Park” screenplay.)
“Little Red Robin Hood” will be the first directorial effort from 2015 St. James High School graduate Chenoa DePoppe--who should be eminently recognizable to locals from her scintillating and sublime performances in recent high school plays like “Grease,” among others--but she has a couple assistant director credits under her belt, and though she’s found herself wandering in the dark on multiple occasions in this maiden undertaking already, “I’ve always been able to find the light switch.” “I’m so excited to do this, work with these kids, and get them excited about theater.”
DePoppe has been acting essentially her entire life, taking part in community theater productions before she was even eligible for children’s theater, and she’s majoring in theater at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she just punctuated her freshman year by gaining acceptance into the school’s “astounding” theater program following a rigorous examination of monologues, interviews, and dancing. “I love theater, it kind of just hits you; you don’t want to come off the stage--I’ve always been more comfortable on the stage than off of it.”
In terms of children’s theater, “Little Red Robin Hood” has a rather large cast, at least two-dozen roles, DePoppe said. “There are lots of opportunities, I want everyone to get their chance to actually do something.”
“Mary Poppins,” on the other hand, has a central cast of six-eight characters “we all know and love,” but there are also myriad supporting parts, and Wojtalewicz is hoping families use those chorus-esque chances to become involved in the production. “There’s a place for everybody, we want people engaged and involved.”
There are a pair of plum roles for youth, the nine-year-old and 11-year-old of the Banks household, and very young children are more than welcome to join their parents in rounding out the cast, but “Little Red Robin Hood” is open only to students in grades four-eight, Wojtalewicz said. While “Mary Poppins” is a musical, with copious amounts of singing and dancing, “Little Red Robin Hood” is a play, albeit a riotous one, and a major key for success in both will be having enough individuals audition to ensure a quality cast.
In “Little Red Robin Hood,” a fractured fairy tale, the heroine is the connective tissue uniting a plethora of diffuse characters and situations well-known in childhood fantasy, from the big bad wolf to the three little pigs, DePoppe said. The set-up is a sister attempting to put her younger siblings to bed for the night, but they demand a story, and she delivers a “mashup” of “pure comedy.”
Like the best animated movies, “Little Red Robin Hood” will be effective for children and adults, DePoppe said. “There are jokes for kids, and they can dig in and get their hands into it, but parents won’t be pained to sit through it.”
Though DePoppe has spent the preponderance of her theater career on the stage, theater majors are compelled to take part in every element of production, which has given her a leg up in directing. “You gain a deeper appreciation of all the layers, it’s not just performances.”
Wojtalewicz added that, since DePoppe has acted under multiple excellent directors, “you know more about directing than you think.” “Through osmosis, it just sort of seeps in.”
DePoppe anticipates her biggest hurdle will be “connecting with the kids, getting them out of their shell.” Many are timid and only read their lines rather than expressing character.
Due to construction next summer, 2017 might be “an off year” for community theater, as the Little Theater will be unavailable, Wojtalewicz said. Consequently, for those who have been playing Hamlet regarding whether or not to take the plunge in a local production, “now is the time.”
St. James High School’s Little Theater will host auditions, rehearsals, and the production. Auditions for “Little Red Robin Hood” are 3:30-5:30 p.m., while auditions for “Mary Poppins” are at 7 p.m.; “Mary Poppins” will be performed July 28-30, while “Little Red Robin Hood” will coincide with this year’s Railroad Days festivities, with performances June 24 and 25.
St. James community theater has picked up more attention in the last few years, and Wojtalewicz is hopeful they can continue the solid run with adults and children through these two plays. “We are gaining momentum.”
Ryan Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan