West Junior theater department gets into character

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By JESSICA KRAMPE

neighborhoods@ColumbiaMissourian.com

The voices of young actors and actresses rang through Smithton Middle School’s halls on an otherwise quiet night. A splash of spotlight flooded the stage as West Junior High School rehearsed on the eve of opening night of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at Smithton, 3600 W. Worley St.

Rehearsals began in September. Opening night was Thursday, Nov. 18, and performances ended on Saturday, Nov. 20.

“They have grown so much,” said Sarah Gerling, who teaches theater, debate and film studies at West Junior. “They’ve really embraced everything about this show, which has been really nice to see and kind of a cool journey that they have been on.”

The second dress rehearsal on Wednesday, Nov. 18, gave the students time to practice at Smithton and get used to the full play and what comes along with it.

“Now that we have the costumes and props and the set, that really helps,” Gerling said. “They get into those costumes and suddenly they are walking in the shoes of that character for real.”

Gerling said she wants the kids to have a good time and to learn something about theater, themselves and about human life and interaction. She said her cast has grown in skill level.

“They haven’t done anything that has probably been this difficult,” she said, “as far as coming up with characters that were so far removed from them. I think it’s really challenged them as actors.”

Marilyn Cummins is the proud parent of Will Fandek, who plays the lead role of Mr. Whiteside in the production. She said that she was happy to see her son have such a good time and that the play has benefited him.

“(The role) has given him more confidence,” she said. “It was a tremendous amount to learn and memorize. There were times when he was not sure if he was going to make it, but he’s shown himself he can do it.”

The dress rehearsal was the first time Cummins had seen the play all the way through.

“I just think it came alive,” she said.

Being involved in a theater production like “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is a team effort and gives the students a chance to learn how to work as an ensemble and build self-confidence. Those are good life skills, Cummins said.

Next in the West Junior theater department:

— The department will have auditions in early February for the musical “The Pajama Game.” Performances will be in mid April.

— A month after the musical, a performing arts class will be putting on a full-length production that is still to be determined. Performances will be the second week of May.

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