By NICK MARIANO
MT. VERNON — —
Something about Theater for Kids keeps bringing people back. To theater director Mary Beth Mezo of Mt. Vernon Township High School, the program is as much for adults and the community as it is the kids.
For 2,700 grade school kids from schools spanning four counties, most will begin their the journey into story-telling on the stage later this month as the high school actors and crew members perform for them. The hope, Mezo said, is they will come away for an appreciation of something most if not all have never before experienced.
There have been successes.
Mezo briefly interrupted rehearsal Tuesday evening to ask her students how many of them came to see Theater for Kids when they were in grade school.
They all raised their hands.
“It’s all about introducing them to something other than what they are used to doing,” Mezo said.
Those successes keeps her and others motivated to continue the theater. Even its founder, MVTHS teacher Jim Miller, wouldn’t stop directing it well after he retired from teaching. Only health-related issues necessitated Mezo taking over the program in 2005, she said.
Miller started the program because of a need to help satisfy state school standards and would go so far as to take his students and sets and costumes to the grade schools to perform.
But it’s not their success alone, Mezo insists, with student actors and crew members working in cramped spaces of an aging auditorium. There are no real dressing rooms. Costume changes are a hectic scramble in so-called wings to the sides of the stage no bigger than a very short hallway.
Yet, Mezo says they continue to work tirelessly even after eight weeks of her stern orders to repeat lines with even more energy or to get an action just right. And they do. Past performances have engrossed their young audiences to the point that they have yelled out during them to “watch out for rats,” or to tell a wicked witch they don’t like her.
Much care goes into the productions beyond the performers or the stage hands who stay late after rehearsals to build and paint sets or plan lighting and sound.
Dee Ann Endsley is a good example. She’s a retired principal’s secretary from the high school. In 2002, she was asked by the theater department to help find costumes for 56 performers in “Anything Goes.” Normally costume rentals are reserved a year in advance. She had six weeks.
Somehow, she managed to help make all the needed costumes. Eleven years since, she continues to make or help find costumes today for every production. What keeps bringing her back?
“It’s definitely not the money,” she said. “It’s the kids.”
Both the costumes and much of the set designs are professionally made, Mezo said. Her goal is to not only entertain the children, but also older students and members of the community.
“I want them to walk away and not say that a show was real good for high school kids but only that it was real good,” she said.
This year’s presentation will be Brothers Grimm Hansel and Gretel, adapted for stage by Vera Morris. Grade school students will get to see the shows for free, thanks to sponsorships by the MVTHS Foundation and the Carl Schweinfurth Foundation and the Regional Office of Education.
However, admittance for public showings is $4, which Mezo said “can’t be beat.”
School children only shows will be Oct. 18 and 19 at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day. Public showings are scheduled for the same days at 7 p.m.
Because of the number of performances in just two days, there are two casts for the larger parts. Cast members are Jonathan Dorris and Jase Lucas (Hansel), Kelsey Shannon and Madi Walton (Gretel), Caleb Vaughn (Frederick), Chera Edwards (Susie), Ashtyn Cornett (Johanna), Megan Owens (Lydia), Sam Lawrence and Cody Wilson (Frack), William Box and Dalton Miller (Frick), Grace McDowell and Bethany Brown (Witch), Faith Harpole (Mother), Kendall Kaskie (father), Andrew Capps (Troll), John Collins (Owl), Michaela Lamczyk (Dew Princess), Amy Heckenberger (Echo), Bennett Lamczyk (Sandman), Camilla Bauer (Child #4), and Megan Jackson (Female Gingerbread Cookie).
Crew members are: Stage crew Captains Makayla Hayse and Molly Rodgers and crew members Hailey Beal, Brandon Leneave, Angela Atkinson, Caleb Dorris, Erica Williams, Breanna Williamson, Nathan Arnold, Jenny Rohl, Keila Stumbaugh, McKenzie Payne and Katie Tapp; lighting crew Captain Avery Barton and crew member Olivia Ashby; sound crew Captain Casey Brandt and crew members Sierra Riley and Brody Wilson; sound effects crew member Theirry Papazian; microphone wranglers Taylor Phillips, Quentin Lloyd, Falyn Van Dyke and Jaxson Lewis; costumes and makeup Megan Jackson, Ayla Gehner, Casey Jackson and Shayln Koch.
Production staff include: Mezo, director; Bennett Lamczyk, student stage manager; Endsley, costumes and make-up; Joe Brown, technical director; Enid Kennedy, assistant produce; and Zach Standerfer, student assistant.