You can play a play warm, you can play a play cold. You can play a play young, you can play a play old. The sky is the limit, when you put on a play. For a play can be played – at any age!
This is (more or less) the thesis behind the “mixed” productions at Salem’s Enlightened Theatrics. Each season, the theater includes a production that showcases – or mixes – youth performers alongside seasoned professionals.
This December, Enlightened is presenting “Seussical The Musical,” with support from the Oregon Cultural Trust. The features the most beloved characters from Dr. Seuss’s stories, including TheCat in the Hat, the Grinch and Horton, the elephant with remarkable hearing. Enlightened’s 24-member cast includes 13 youth performers, aged 10-17.
“It’s hard to get work unless you’ve had experience,” says Jessica Peterson, Enlightend’s executive director. “We offer that opportunity; to really understand what it looks like to put up a production.”
Peterson says that, in her conversations with the performers’ parents, she learned most of the youth actors have never performed in a fully staged production. A mixed production, Peterson says, combines education with on-the-job training.
“The biggest takeaway is that real world application,” says Peterson.
Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty – the duo behind “Once on this Island” – the musical tells the familiar story of Jojo, a young boy who encounters all Suess’s fantastical characters. Danielle Valentine, a Portland actor and educator, directs.
Although the subject matter is cartoonish, Peterson says the creative team has envisioned a more human approach to the staging.
Michael Bentea, Enlightened’s communications director and the show’s choreographer, says that “Seussical” is more serious than it might appear at first glance, “once you really start dissecting the show and listening to the songs and what the characters are saying. It’s Shakespearean in its ability to just tap into all of those raw human emotions.”
“To work alongside other performers who are professionals in this industry and learn from them, that’s the opportunity that this production provides,” says Bentea.
Maybe next year, the kids will be doing “Hamlet.”
Note: Performances are scheduled for Dec. 9-11 ad Dec. 16-18 at Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre. Tickets at https://enlightenedtheatrics.org/tickets/.
Story by Max Tapogna.