From left, the chancellor, played by Madison Cunningham, tries to reason with the spoiled princess, played by Courtney Stroh, and her court jester, played by Katie Knackstedt, in a rehearsal Monday of "The Quiltmaker's Gift" at the Old Town Playhouse. Kenai Performers youth theater will perform the show this weekend.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Not only do the participants in Kenai Performers' summer youth theater camps get a chance to act in a play, they get to try their hands at writing, costuming, choreographing and designing one, too.
Director Carol Ford took an interactive approach to the camps this year, wanting input from the kids in every aspect of the shows they did, from choosing the stories to writing the lines, picking music for dances and coming up with jokes. The camps one for second- up to seventh-graders and the other for older kids up to 12th grade have been going since July 5.
"I wrote it with the children's interests and personalities in mind and it's been really fun," Ford said. "We can take something that somebody can do and can give them a space to do it in."
Gerda, played by Autumn Bell, and her friend Kai, played by Nate Saldivar, relax in a garden underneath a rose, played by Brittany Rodgers, in the play "The Snow Queen."
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Whether it's playing a kazoo, hip-hop dancing or throwing fake punches, if the kids really wanted to do it, Ford worked it into the shows. She's operated the month-long camps on the principle of improvisational theater any suggestion is valid and anything goes.
"We used any songs the kids wanted to use," she said. "One of the first rules of improv is if somebody does something, you go with it. That's what we're doing with it and it's been a lot of fun."
The result is two shows that are a little hodgepodge at times what with a dance to Rose Royce's "Carwash" song in a play about a princess and a scene with mythological goblins playing video games but that the kids are enjoying and feel invested in.
"The thing I love most is this ability to just change it," Ford said. "... It's so fun to say, 'Yeah, we think it's funny, we'll put it in.'"
Though the shows don't conform to one strict time period, look or music style, that's not to say they don't have coherent storylines. Both shows have all the hallmarks of an engaging play characters, conflict, humor, adventure, resolution and even morals.
Ford began working with the kids by talking about what makes a good story.
"We started out the camps talking abut the kinds of stories we liked and what we liked about them," Ford said.
In the camp for younger kids, Ford suggested doing a play based on the book "The Quiltmaker's Gift," by Jeff Brumbeau, which fit well with the suggestions the kids had.
The story is about a spoiled princess Precious Glorianna Jewel III who is putting her subjects in poverty by demanding gift after gift from them, yet none of her possessions make her truly happy. When she hears of a woman who makes beautiful quilts for the needy, she demands to have one. The quiltmaker tells the princess she will make her a quilt, but only if she gives all her possessions away.
Participants in the older children's camp took longer to come to agreement on a show, but when someone suggested "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christen Anderson, it was a hit.
"We all said, 'Oh yeah.' And it has been perfect," Ford said.
In the show, troublesome goblins create a magic mirror that causes the people who look in it to only see faults. When they drop the mirror it shatters into tiny pieces. One shard is lodged in a boy's eye, causing him to scorn anything he sees, and another in his heart, turning it cold. When he inadvertently gets drug off to the Snow Queen's castle, the boy's innocent childhood friend tries to rescue him. She meets all manner of helpful and threatening creatures on her journey to save her friend.
"It's really a good one for the kids, and we're putting in a lot of humor, too," Ford said. "It has real depth and breadth of humor, and there's adventure."
Ford said parents have had a lot of involvement in the show, joining their efforts with choreographers Lucas Anderson and Linsey Kreuger, set designer Rita Eddy Kincade, costumer Nancy Egbert and assistants Jacet Conright, Amy Shoemaker and Margy Harford.
"It's community theater in a nutshell, even though it's all kids in it," Ford said.
"The Quiltmaker's Gift" will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Old Town Playhouse in the Malston's Building in Old Town Kenai. "The Snow Queen" will be performed at 7 p.m. July 29 and 30 and 3 p.m. July 31, also at the Playhouse. Tickets are $8 for general admission and $6 for seniors and students with discounts for Kenai Performers members. Tickets are available at the Playhouse and Charlotte's in Kenai and River City Books in Soldotna. Advanced purchase is recommended.
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