Get a glimpse of the upcoming youth season at the Norvell

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 5, 2013

Audiences will see a variety of shows performed on the stage of the Norvell Theater this season, which kicks off with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” later this month.
Reid Leonard, Piedmont Players Theatre’s resident director, said he chose “Twelfth Night” because of the “large collection of great roles” the production offers.
“A lot of times if you do a particular play it’s got one or two leads with minor supporting roles, but this one has a lot of really good supporting characters,” he said.
Leonard said this is the eighth season in a row that Piedmont Players has performed Shakespeare.
“The Norvell Theater is here for education, and boy is Shakespeare a great way to train actors,” he said. “By the time you get to about the fourth show in the season, you can tell the kids who did the Shakespeare in the fall; they’re better actors, they’re stronger, it’s like they build muscles.”
Leonard said theatre is a good way to “turn people on to Shakespeare.”
“When the kids start out they don’t understand some of the lines and words, but the more we analyze it, the more we talk about it, the more we work on it, it starts to click,” he said.
Josh Wainwright, Piedmont Players’ marketing director, said Leonard often throws in a theme to make the Shakespeare stagings more relatable for the youth. Last year, it was “The Godfather” paired with “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“The kids in the audience were captivated right from the beginning,” he said. “(Leonard) always presents it in a way that is engaging to the kids.”
The second production of the year will be “Story Theatre,” which is a collection of famous fables from the Grimm Brothers to Aesop. The audience will be reintroduced to Henny Penny, the Golden Goose, Venus & the Cat, the Fisherman & his Wife, The Robber Baron and other favorites.
Leonard said the play utilizes the same strategy used in last season production of “The Jack Tales.”
“The technique is you say “Once upon a time” and you become the character,” he said.
That means minimal costumes changes are required for youth to switch from one character to another.
““Jack Tales was a great training ground last year,” Leonard said. “The show worked really well at introducing kids into how to develop a character because everybody over the course of the evening played four or five different characters.
“It’s a fun, very theatrical way to do theatre.”
The subject matter turns more serious with the third play titled “A Thousand Cranes.”
“This is possibly one of the most exciting shows of the whole year,” Leonard said. “There’s a book over at the Rowan Library about children’s theater and it lists “A Thousand Cranes” as one of the 10 most important youth plays ever written.”
The play tells the true story of Sadako Saski, who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was drooped on Hiroshima, where she lived. She ends up hospitalized with radiation sickness 10 years later and a friend reminds her of the legend that if a sick person folds a thousand origami cranes the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.
“The little girl dies, but the point of what play is the question of what’s the future going to be,” Leonard said. “When you’re thinking about the world there’s war or there’s peace; how do you choose?
“‘A Thousand Cranes’ is a symbol there is hope for peace.”
Leonard said the fourth and fifth grade students who are bussed in to see the show will each receive a piece of paper and be taught how to fold an origami crane before they arrive.
“When they come to see the play, they’ll hang their cranes all over the theatre,” he said. “So by the time we finish the run there will actually be about 4,000 cranes hanging up.”
Leonard said it’s fun to do musicals and comedies, but it’s just as important to stage production like “A Thousand Cranes.”
“If you don’t introduce these shows to the audience, you’re not doing your job,” he said. “The theatre doesn’t exist exclusively for light entertainment.”
The world’s most famous girl detective will take the stage for the fourth production of the year.
Leonard said neither the Meroney or Norvell theaters have staged a mystery in a long time, so he thought it was time to do “Nancy Drew: Girl Detective.”
“This will potentially be the killer set of all time at the Norvell Theater,” he said. “There are secret passageways and hidden chambers … it’s quite involved from a location point of view.”
The Norvell season will wrap up with “High School Musical,” a show Wainwright said many of the youth have been requesting for years.
Leonard said with some of the darker themes involved in “Story Theatre” and “A Thousand Cranes” he wanted to end the season on a “light, summery note.”
“Plus, one of the things about ‘High School Musical’ is that there aren’t a ton of adult characters,” he said. “The cast is high school, so that it’s their age doing the show.”

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.