Thinking back on our childhoods, many of us fondly remember Willie Wonka and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” especially the Oompa-Loompas and some of the very fun characters, as well as all the wondrous color presented in this piece of work.
The Portsmouth Area for the Arts Council & Children’s Theatre (PAACCT) will present an adaptation of this great children’s play — “Willie Wonka Jr.” — Friday through Sunday at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. The play is based on the book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” by Ronald Dahl. The performing group consists of 100 local student actor from the Portsmouth Area Children’s Theatre. Susan Foster is director for this play, and Becky Lovins is the executive director of PAAC4Kids.
Some of the characters sat down recently and talked about their upcoming performances.
Violet Beauregarde, the gum chewer extraordinaire said Faith Claypool, who plays her in the play. Claypool is from the STEM Academy, and she says this is actually her 13th play in which to participate. When asked about whether she likes acting, she quickly replied, “Oh, yes, it’s the field I want to go into, and I actually am planning on going to Disney and audition.”
Then she observes: “Funny thing is, I wore blue in the last play, and I’m wearing blue this play, and this costume blows up.”
The character of Mrs. Gloop is being played by Emily Clausing, a freshman from Clay. She said this is her sixth play with PAACCT, and says her part is quite fun and her costume is fun, also.
Veruca Salt is being played by Nicole Hughes. “I kinda get everything I want from my dad — he buys me everything I want because I’m a brat, a rich spoiled brat!” Hughes, a sixth grader at South Webster, says her costume is red and has a white collar like an older one. She said she has been doing these plays since she was 7 years old. She loves acting, and she sings a lot, and “it’s hard, because I have to scream my solo.”
Macy Jones, from West, plays Grandma Josephine, and says of her character, “She’d rather be in the comfort of her own bed than go out with Charlie.”
Ryan Crock, who plays Mr. Buckett, is also from the STEM Academy and is a sophomore. He says he loves acting, and he, too, has been in some of the other plays. He has a solo in this play, but it doesn’t make him nervous.
The character of Willie Wonka is being played by Lewis County senior Devin Watson. “It’s really exciting. I love playing this part.”
He says he started in Portsmouth his freshman year in 2014. “I plan to go on to some college into musical theater. I sing the opening number, and I have a few other songs in the show. I enjoy it. Willie Wonka is who I wanted to be. I really love becoming the character. I’ll just sit at home with the script and go over it a thousand times.”
Watson has a hearing disability. But he doesn’t think it hinders him in any way. “I don’t think it does, because I’ve been in musical theater for about four years now, and I’ve like never had anybody really say, ‘Oh, that’s going to hold you back in life,’ ‘cause I’ve had a lot of great opportunities. So far, it hasn’t held me back. It may even work to my advantage. I’m on the high frequency deaf level where like birds and whistles are kind of hard to hear. When I was little, like the sixth grade, I started some theater, and I was always kind of showy.”
Watson, however, is very humble when it comes to how talented he truly is, especially when you know he has a disability that is not noticeable. He has an amazing voice, and will truly make this play spectacular.
Behind the scenes are some wonderful ladies who do almost everything, except for the acting in the play. These ladies make costumes, props, get the kids fitted and so many other little details, that many do not realize they make the whole thing come together. Many times, these folks are the parents of some of the children in the play. Some people help from time to time, but usually there are just a few who are there almost the entire time — during practices and the play. Jeanne Nickel, Lindsey Setty and Keri Sanders all have kids in the play, and spend the majority of their time behind the scenes, making sure that, along with the acting, the kids and play have everything they need for the shows.
These ladies laughed when asked if it got easier when it gets closer to time for the actual play, which probably meant that it truly gets tougher. Setty does most of the costumes, and keeps that part going well, the others said. But then there’s the props and everything else to get ready. The ladies said this play is good because many of the props are candy, and they can eat some of them. And as if that’s not enough to do, all the props, costumes and, of course, the actors must be transferred to Shawnee State University’s Vern Riffe Center for this week’s practices and the weekend performances. Lovins said they normally rent a box truck, and there are other vans and cars that transport the rest.
Just a week before the performance, Lovins’ desk was surrounded with money for T-shirt sales, Wonka chocolate bars, ticket sales and donations. This would make most people turn and run, but Lovins has a process and was truly not flustered by all the things around her as she spoke of the play and all that goes into presenting it. “We work usually right up until performance time getting everything ready.”
Lovins added that the children have been practicing Monday through Thursday since January.
“We are grant funded to a certain point” she explained. “We have a sort of balance of earned vs. contributed,” but the children are not charged for participation. “As a nonprofit, we don’t have the cash flow that regular organizations do.”
And while finances are always front and center, PAACCT has an additional concern. On July 1, the organization’s lease is up at the Third Street location, so a search for a new place has begun. Lovins says PAACCT needs at least 5,000 square feet — more square footage would not be bad — and the ability to bring operations, such as set building, to the new location.
Lovins is starting her 10th season with the PAAC group. In 2010, the organization started the Children’s Theatre, and Foster has been with the theater for about eight years. The organization’s mission, Lovins said, is to integrate the arts into the lives of children.
But “Willie Wonka Jr.” is the production currently at the forefront. Those looking for what promises to be some great entertainment this weekend should look no further. The PAACCT group has a tremendous amount of children who have lots of talent and some wonderful scenes and costumes to make everything about Willie Wonka come to life beginning Friday.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928