When Cynthia Ramsdell and Elizabeth Tracy decided to undertake a music theatre production for local children, they had no idea that more than 100 would sign up. Because they wanted each of them to have an authentic experience, they had to get creative when they staged the Community Music School’s first endeavor, Willy Wonka Jr.
“When you have 105 children in grades 2-8 to manage … coordinating activities and learning processes for so many was a new hurdle,” Elizabeth said. The co-directors decided to triple cast the show to put on three different versions of the same production. “We were teaching multiple actors in each role. That was a new experience for me.”
Based on reaction and the standing-room-only crowds for all three performances last weekend, the experience was positive for all involved. “It was amazing … really a great success,” said Cynthia, who directs Heidelberg’s Community Music School. “We were very pleased.”
Elizabeth and Cynthia enlisted the help of about a dozen Heidelberg and local high school students. They were part of a large team that pulled the productions together, and in the process, scored a big win for the entire community.
“We wanted to reach out to the community, and we sure did,” Cynthia said. “It really did take a village. I was so encouraged to see how the community came together to help out. It was just a fantastic collaboration among the community and the university.”
One of the “villagers” who volunteered to assist was Heidelberg student Jessie Gase, a junior psychology major from Tiffin. Jessie was responsible for helping to block the scenes and shuttling the young actors and actresses onto the stage for their scenes. She also assisted with costuming.
“The biggest challenge in working with the kids was probably keeping the volume down off stage,” Jessie joked. “And the costume changes for 12 kids at a time.”
All in all, it was an excellent experience for her. “I liked how dedicated all of the kids were to making this a great show,” she said. “I also liked that they were very respectful.”
Elizabeth and Cynthia agreed the production was a win-win for the university and high school volunteers. “I think the students gained valuable teaching and classroom management as they got a taste of what it’s like to produce a show,” Elizabeth said, adding that costume and props manager Vanessa cook and community members Seth Innis and Jami Daniel were “incredibly helpful” in lending their skills and talents to the performers.
Despite compromised rehearsal time because of the weather, the shows came together in the end. Performers came from Tiffin City, Hopewell-Loudon, Seneca East, Mohawk, Old Fort and Carey schools.
One of the performers was 9-year-old Clayton Sooy, a third-grader from Old Fort, who played the role of Charlie Bucket. Clayton’s dad, ‘Berg alum Mike Sooy, thoroughly enjoyed watching his son, even if the experience was a bit of déjà vu.
“It was kind of surreal, especially seeing him on the same stage I performed on several times,” Mike said. “Watching now as a parent, it was as if life had come full circle.”
Mike particularly enjoyed watching his son connect with the play. “He really enjoyed it. He’s already asking when the next one will be.”
Clayton and the cast of characters from the Candy Man Kids to Augustus Gloop will be happy to know that the co-directors are already planning for another large-scale production, possibly even two, next year, Elizabeth confirmed.
The rewards definitely outweigh the hard work for all involved.
“In the end, it was so wonderful to see the looks on the kids’ and parents’ faces when they were finished,” Cynthia said. Elizabeth added: “I always enjoy watching and helping the children grow in their music and acting skills. … When the show reaches the point that the students are acting and singing as the characters, no longer restricted to their own personalities, that’s the best!”