A pensive Madi Schmeling considered her summer camp options and decided to step onto the stage and shine under the bright lights for the first time.
Instead of chasing frogs in the great outdoors at a remote kids camp, she followed her curiosity and ultimately, a rabbit.
“I even get to talk to a doorknob,” said Schmeling, 9, a fourth-grader-to-be at Pioneer Elementary School.
As the diminutive Alice, she experienced the madcap adventures of Wonderland at Theater Camp – an inaugural three-week program presented by Auburn Regional Theater in partnership with the Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.
The camp, which attracted a cast of 47 kids ages 7-14, culminates with three showings of “Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr.” this weekend at the historic Auburn Avenue Theater. The fast-paced stage adaptation of Alice in Wonderland features updated dialogue and new arrangements of classic Disney songs.
It was a daunting and rewarding challenge to director Jackie Edwards, who posed a more upbeat version of the time-honored childhood story favorite to her student cast.
“It’s similar music but modernized to give it more pop, flair,” Edwards said between costume fittings and rehearsals this week. “We had to be progressive with what kids like today. I thought they would like this version more, to draw them in, as well as the audience.”
The approach has worked, evident by the turnout and support. And because of the episodic nature of the musical, several characters have a chance to be the focus of the story. Such a play fit the demand of a large cast, replete with a chorus and supporting voices.
Through the theater company’s artistry and the city’s production expertise, such a fledgling pilot program has taken wing. Tentative plans are to offer another camp this fall to aspiring young actors and actresses from nearby schools.
The camp provides an affordable option for those youngsters interested in pursuing theater.
Under Edwards’ watch, kids learn different aspects of theater production, from costuming and voice adaptations, acting to staging, improvisation to effective listening. The lessons ran daily, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with bring-your-own lunch breaks.
“You make new friends and when everyone brings energy, it makes it fun,” said Raeli Murray, 13, who will be an eighth-grader at Cascade Middle School. Murray joined Schmeling and 14-year-old Megan Porter in playing the ever-changing Alice.
While the camp helped many tackle their scripts, it enabled others to conquer stage fright.
“It has made me more comfortable on stage,” said Brianne Wylie, a freshman-to-be at Jefferson High School who plays the caterpillar in the musical. “(The staff) was great, helpful and tolerant.
“Before, I was reserved. But now, I learned how to act and not just be up there reading my lines.”
The camp began with auditions, but all who signed up had a place in the show, Edwards said. Leading and supporting roles were not necessarily awarded to those with talent, but those with exemplary behavior, attentiveness and effort.
Most significantly, the camp promoted togetherness and cooperation.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of teamwork and confidence building in what we are doing,” Edwards said. “It’s not about making you look good, but making fellow actors look good.
“We’re not Broadway yet, but we’re learning a lot about teamwork.”
• Show: Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr., presented by Auburn Regional Theater, in partnership with the Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.
• Performances: 7 p.m., Friday, 2 p.m. today and Sunday. Doors open a half-hour earlier. Musical spans about 1 hour, 45 minutes.
• Stage: Auburn Avenue Theater, 10 Auburn Ave.
• Staff: Jackie Edwards (director); Lizzie Officer (choreography); Elisa and Jordan Rosin (assistant directors).
• Tickets: $5. Available at the box office or by calling 253-931-3043.