Youth in Wonderland

Latest youth theater production goes down the rabbit hole

MARQUETTE — Superior Arts Youth Theater is nearing its first performance of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” at the Forest Roberts Theatre Nov. 15-18, 2018. This production is directed by Jalina McClain with vocal direction by Jeff Bruning and choreography by Taylor Koski.

Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” is a fast-paced adaptation of the classic Disney film. The familiar narrative follows the madcap adventures of Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine Alice. Audiences are invited to watch Alice chase the White Rabbit, race the Dodo Bird, get tied up with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, encounter a bubble-blowing caterpillar and beat the Queen of Hearts at her own game.

Many actors were needed to bring this wondrous world to the stage. The production put on by the Superior Arts Youth Theater, or SAYT, features 75 performers ages pre-K through eighth grade. SAYT Executive Director McClain said out of the 110 kids who auditioned, about 75 percent were cast.

“Our mission is to serve youth, ages 3-18, through performing arts experiences and technical theater opportunities,” McClain said. “We’re trying to create, teach them how to work as a team, collaborate and express themselves creatively.”

For those who want to be involved, but not in the spotlight, they have the option of joining the tech crew.

“They are moving all the scenery, a lot of times they are coming in to paint the sets, and just helping finish the whole production, and that is such a big job,” McClain said. “We really encourage kids to come and be on the crew, especially if you are too afraid to audition.”

The cast started practice back in August at the Marquette Hope Connection Center. Since, the young actors have been involved with almost every aspect of the production as McClain and the other organizers encourage collaboration on all levels.

“We definitely take creative input,” McClain said. “The show is so much the actors collaborating with the directors and the artistic staff. We couldn’t do it without them. Their minds are so incredibly creative and so willing to do different things. When most adults perform, you get more self-conscious, you’re just more aware of yourself as a person, but these kids are willing to give it their all and they never step back. They are always asking ‘Can we do more? Can we do more?’ And it’s the coolest thing to see.”

SAYT participants often come back to help with productions once they age out of the program.

“We have a lot of alumni that work with us,” McClain mentioned.

Choreographer Taylor Koski, a sophomore at Northern Michigan University, has been involved with SAYT productions since the third grade.

“I grew up through the program and started mentoring with Jill Grundstrom — which is one of our other choreographers — and then once I became an adult, I started doing productions on my own,” Koski said.

Thanks to the involvement from SAYT alumni, students at NMU and other community members, SAYT is able to work with hundreds of kids from all parts of Marquette County.

“This is a family and I’ve been doing this since I was 9 years old,” Koski said. “I grew up and had awesome experiences in this program and that’s really something I wanted to give to the kids who are now growing up in the program. This is a really great place for kids to be after school and a program to get involved with other kids in the area. We actually have a lot of kids outside of Marquette, so it is a really great way to bring kids who wouldn’t normally see each other in school.”

For 11-year-old Bella Coleman, who plays one version of Alice’s character, this will be her 10th production with SAYT.

“I love going to rehearsal and memorizing lines, even though sometimes it’s hard, and the youth theater is so great,” Coleman said. “I have so much fun with them.”

Coleman’s involvement with the theater has offered her closeness to that community.

“It’s kind of like, I don’t know, one big family.”

Performances of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” will be presented at 7 p.m. Nov. 15-17 and at 1 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Forest Roberts Theatre. Tickets are $15 for adults and seniors and $9 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.nmu.edu, by phone 906-227-1032, or in person at any NMU ticketing outlet: Berry Events Center, University Bookstore, Superior Dome, or the Forest Roberts Theatre. For more information about SAYT visit saytheater.org or find Superior Arts Youth Theater on Facebook.

Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is ckelly@miningjournal.net.