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Young kids get to strut their stuff on stage in theatrical production at ETC venue

The 12 cast members in Arts Abound’s upcoming production of Honk! Jr. pose for a group photo ahead of opening night May 18 at the Elmira Theatre Company facility.

A cast of 12 students is putting on their very own musical next week, sharing an updated musical version of the classic tale of The Ugly Duckling.

In Honk! Jr., Arts Abound students will be telling the story of Ugly, a young bird that is having trouble accepting that he is different from his brothers and sisters. He is bullied, then lured away from the farmyard by a cat, and on the subsequent adventure, comes to terms with the fact that he looks different. He meets a swan named Penny, who lends a hand, and upon returning to the farmyard, realizes that he has been missed by his family, regardless of how he looks.

“It is just a really nice story about being different, and celebrating those differences,” said director and Arts Abound founder Shelley Martin.

The students have been working on the play since September, and are involved in all aspects of the production, including set design and script work. The eight month program is called Studio to Stage.

“We have been working on strategies to learn and remember your lines, doing vocal coaching, dance coaching, as well as learning the production. They have also been involved in imagining and designing, then creating the sets that we are using,” said Martin. “Every week when they come, we are working on the music, or the sets, or blocking a scene – they have been involved in all aspects of the production. It has really given them an appreciation. When they go see a performance, they understand everything that goes into making that production come to life. It is a really neat learning experience.”

All of that hard work is about to pay off with three performances of Honk! Jr. on May 18 and 19 at the Elmira Theatre Company. There is room for 200 audience members at each performance, and Martin says there are a few students that stand out. It is the theatre school’s first performance after opening their doors in St. Jacobs last year.

“The role of Ugly is being played by Brooklyn Hiller, and she is 10. She goes to Floradale Public School. All of the kids are local. Ugly’s mom is being played by Emilya Hillwood. She is 12 years old,” she said. “Everyone in the production has been working super hard, but these two girls have really worked hard embracing their characters and they have both done a phenomenal job, but we are super excited to see them all on stage. That is the really fun thing about our group. Because it is a small group, we have a couple of key lead parts, but everyone else, they are playing two or three roles in the production. So everyone is on stage for a lot of the time.”

It isn’t just the final product the students have to be proud of, however. Martin says she has been amazed at how far the students have come in their stage presence and confidence.

“We have seen, since September, so many of these kids come out of their shell. There were kids that were really shy when we first started and didn’t want to even sing alone in front of Robin Warwick, the co-director, and I,” says Martin. “Now, they are all excited to sing in front of an audience of 200. It is just really exciting to see from September to the May, these kids have just become so much more confident in their ability to perform. It is a huge benefit to just building that confidence to just go up in front of a group. Something like public speaking isn’t that intimidating when you have been up on a stage in front of a large audience.”

Honk! Jr. is a modified version of a musical from the stages of Broadway in the 1980s, and was written by Anthony Drewe with music by George Stiles. Musical Theatre International takes full length productions and cuts them down for youth, and this is just one example of that.

To get tickets to Honk! Jr., you can either call Arts Abound at 519-206-2787, or email Martin at info@artsabound.ca.

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