75 of some of the community’s most imaginative youth have been hard at work in recent months, preparing something special for the area with a Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre production of the Ronald Dahl wonderful classic story, James and the Giant Peach.
This junior production, through Musical Theatre International, was adapted for the stage by Timothy McDonald with music and lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, and features all of the quirkiness Dahl wrote into the original.
According to Musical Theatre International, the story focuses on the young James, “When James’ parents are killed in a freak rhinoceros attack, he is first to an orphanage and then to live with his two conniving aunts. When they send him to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that grows a tremendous peach, rolls into the ocean and launches a journey of enormous proportions. James befriends a collection of singing insects that ride the giant piece of fruit across the ocean, facing hunger, sharks and plenty of disagreements along the way.”
The show features the timelessly beloved characters of Grasshopper, Ladybug, Spider, and more, as James journeys into an imaginative tale.
The show features a huge cast of local student actors ranging in age from 6-18 years old. The process is long and very tedious, but the students return— rehearsal after rehearsal— for nine weeks, to make this performance one that leaves an impression on themselves and the community.
“Our rehearsal process is immersive. The kids quickly fall into the routine of daily rehearsals and become a tight-knit group,” Susan Foster, Artistic Director of the Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre, said. “They really enjoy and look forward to our time working together and are focused on putting together a great show.”
Foster and Executive Director Becky Lovins pride themselves on the friendships and the lessons learned through these shows. The long process teaches children about hard work, responsibility, and that there are no small roles in teamwork.
Participation in the Children’s Theatre is also free to all local students, so no student gets left behind. The only thing required of their student actors is the desire to perform and a willingness to commit to the production’s rigorous schedule.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is the ability to do these productions without charging any kind of fees or tuition for the kids,” Foster said. “As long as we can keep paying our bills, we’ll offer this opportunity to as many kids in our area as we can.”
In an effort to make the shows more family-friendly, PACT has cut its child ticket prices to just $6 per seat for all public shows.
“We talked about how we’d love to be able to share our stories with more people in the community. We hope that by making student ticket prices more affordable, more families will come out get to experience this wonderful live theatre,” Lovins said.
Lovins, like Foster, continues her long hours and demanding job, in effort to provide not only art for community students, but a tool for growth and development to all who step on their stage.
“It’s amazing what power performance has on these students. They learn to open up, come out of their shell, create a character and show that character to an audience,” Lovins explained. “Not only that, but my favorite thing about children’s theatre is that it allows children to be creative, but, at the same time, teaches them to follow directions and work within the confines of an ensemble. Sometimes students who struggle in every day life find that they are free to be themselves at the theatre but also learn the importance of being part of a bigger group.”
The Children’s Theatre is a division of the Portsmouth Area Arts Council. The Arts Council will celebrate its 50th anniversary this spring, a long legacy that continues to work towards its mission of integrating the arts into the lives of students. PAAC is supported locally by the Scioto Foundation and receives state funding from the Ohio Arts Council.
Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets for James and the Giant Peach, Jr. are $6 for children and $12 for adults. Admission is available at the McKinley Box Office by calling (740) 351-3642 or online at www.vrcfa.com.