Arts & Culture

STAGE: Students take the spotlight

The Academy of Creative Theatre) Winter Production Class rehearses their performance of ‘A Little Princess’ at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre on Morro Street. Director Shelagh Garren, bottom left, and A.C.T. Administrator Kerry DiMaggio, bottom center, take notes during scene rehearsal.
The Academy of Creative Theatre) Winter Production Class rehearses their performance of ‘A Little Princess’ at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre on Morro Street. Director Shelagh Garren, bottom left, and A.C.T. Administrator Kerry DiMaggio, bottom center, take notes during scene rehearsal. TRIBUNE PHOTO BY NICK LUCERO

A Little Princess” is a play that was a perfect fit for the Academy of Creative Theatre (ACT), San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s student company.

With a cast of 19 boys and girls, from 7 to 18 years old, it brings new and experienced students together in a classic story for family audiences. This version was adapted by June Walker Rogers from the story “Sara Crew,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote the classic story, “The Secret Garden.”

Like that story, this one is about a girl who goes through life changes and triumphs in the end. Kerry DiMaggio, ACT coordinator, and Shelagh Garren, director of “A Little Princess,” selected the play for several reasons, they said during interviews from their SLOLT offices.

“It’s a simple, elegant story about a girl who goes from being rich to being a pauper, but never loses her love for life, DiMaggio said. “It’s uplifting and good for kids.” She calls it a “mature” story because although it is set in Victorian England, “it’s about real life issues and translates to today.”

The directors also chose the play considering the actors in their program, director Garren explained. The adults in the story are played by teen-age students.

“We were looking at students we had at the time, and we wanted to get the older kids on stage, and get everybody back together.”

“It’s cool to see kids on stage from 7 to 18, with the young kids looking up to older ones,” DiMaggio said.

“A Little Princess” is considered a production class, which means the rehearsals, performances and students are all part of the educational program.

The five-week class takes students from auditions through production. For some, this is their first show, and they have to learn such basics as stage directions, Garren said.

“The next phase is to get the emotional content of the work, not just memorizing their lines. Each actor creates a history of the character. It makes it seem more real. The cast also researches the period (Victorian England) to understand how things were said in a certain way, and they can start to live their characters.”

French, Cockney and proper British accents are also part of the dialogue.

“This adds another element to be aware of — to learn how language is spoken. It’s a good experience, and part of the process.”

The leading role of “Little Princess” Sara Crew is played by Emma Jane Haas, who is a fifth grader, DiMaggio said.

“She’s been taking classes and performing with ACT since she was six. She started as a fairy in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ There’s really a lovely ensemble feel to this production, however. All the students are at rehearsal working hard, and they’re all very excited to show their work to an audience.”

About a third of the cast is elementary school-age, a third middle school-age, and a third high school-age. Most of the high schoolers have been with ACT since they were quite young, and are now participating in ACT’s internship program, which allows them to gain some hands-on experience in other areas of the theater, explained DiMaggio, who was once an ACT student herself.

“Several are working in the box office, some are managing all the props for the production, and doing dialect and scene work with the younger students. It’s really a joy to see these older actors, who’ve been with the program so long, acting as mentors to the younger students. It gives the younger actors a clear idea of what they can be doing in a few years if they continue to participate in the program.”

Spring classes, which will begin in February, include one for children from kindergarten through second grade.

“This is a terrifically fun class, and a great way for the young ones to get used to being on stage and thinking with a theatre mind,” DiMaggio said.

Other classes will include Creative Movement, for kids in grades three through five, and Audition Techniques for Stage and Film.

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