Big Sur’s children’s summer theater group again stands a beloved fairy tale on its head.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
It’s the first of three consecutive Friday evening shows at the Big Sur Grange Hall and artistic director, Jaime Arze, to his own amazement, isn’t racing backstage and running up and down the stairs to put finishing touches on the production of Snow White and the Disco Dwarves.
“Having more interns this year makes my job easier. Usually at a quarter till 7, I’m fixing costumes and taping decorations. The older kids in the program have more of a leadership roll now, and in the 13th year things are running smoother,” Arze says several minutes before the curtain goes up.
Interns are former actors in Stage Kids’ productions, but who at 15 years old are past the age to act in major roles. During the week leading up to the Friday evening performance, the interns help the directors (Nicoya Hudson and Tajha Chappellet-Lanier are Arze’s assistant directors) with the day-to-day development of the production by keeping schedules, organizing games during breaks, preparing snacks and lunches, and contributing to the creative process of the production.
Hudson, one of the older “kids,” and formerly an actress and intern, has been a part of Stage Kids since she was 6 years old (the age kids can first sign up for the program) and now helps Arze produce the show in the week leading up to the performance.
“I’ve always helped with the costumes and my main role now is choreographing the dances,” says the 18-year-old Hudson, a soon-to-be dance student at the University of Hawaii. “This year is also the first time I’m DJing, where I’m doing music and adding sound effects to the show.”
Giving the kids the artistic license to come up with ideas to work into the production (from set design and costumes to ideas for characters and dialogue) makes the play original from week to week, and is one of the endearing characteristics of Stage Kids.
“We take a structure of a fairy tale the kids are familiar with and explode it with all the possibilities,” says Arze.
The entire production is done without a script, which might seem impossible under the cat-herding conditions of producing children’s theater. Arze says while there is nothing tangible for the kids to take home and rehearse, the repetition of the lines and the ability to organically produce new content on the fly (as long as it fits in well with the story’s flow), allows the kids to remember what they are supposed to say from one moment to the next and be ready come the drawing of the curtain.
“We’re making lines up on the spot, so if someone blanks we try to teach them to just go with it,” says assistant director Chappellet-Lanier. “Games we teach like L.A. Freeze help kids get comfortable with doing the improv.”
The lights dim, the packed Grange goes silent, and Disco Dwarves is rolling. The audience is presented with a Magic Mirror (Gabriel Ziaukas) that raps its lines to the Evil Queen (Aja Hudson) who is bent on being “the grooviest of them all,” a Henchman (Westley Sutton) who is sent to kill Snow White (Juniper Schumman) with comedy and nearly succeeds, and a band of disco dwarves who mine for disco balls – and, when finding Snow White and waking her up, throw a disco dance party to celebrate.
“You might recognize some of Snow White in it, or none at all,” Arze says. This element of surprise is the best part of the evening for some audience members. Due to the improvised nature of the show, if the audience returns for weeks two and three, they will see versions 2.0 and then 3.0 of the fairy tale.
For the past three years, one thing the audience has come to expect are the SNL style commercials for products acted out between scenes. The commercials provide comic interludes from the play, and since they were introduced have been demanded by both the audience and the actors.
The commercials were born out of the ashes of the 2008 Basin Complex Fire, when Arze describes kids coming out of the woodwork because so many families were displaced by the chaos of that summer. With a surplus of talent and more than 100 kids, during breaks in that year’s production of Atlantis, he had kids do newscasts about the fires, complete with props like a cardboard news helicopter, and the commercials were a natural complement to the faux television broadcasts.
“For that week during the evacuation, at the Red Cross center at [Carmel] Middle School, we did scenes and created ‘Thank you firemen’ songs,” says Arze. “When the idea came up, and they let everyone back into Big Sur, it was like ‘How can we not do Stage Kids,’ and all of a sudden you realize this is a part of the community now… 2008 was a watershed year for us, because we knew that no matter what happens we had to do the show.”
The future for Stage Kids in Big Sur looks bright with Arze’s army of dedicated assistants, interns and actors. The audiences that show up every week will be happy to know that Arze says, “I hope to be doing this as long as I can.”
STAGE KIDS production of Snow White and the Disco Dwarves is presented 7pm on Friday, July 29, at the Big Sur Grange Hall, Highway 1 at Juan Higuera Creek slightly south south of Ripplewood Resort. $5/adult; $3/kid at the door. Refreshments available for purchase during intermission. www.stagekids.org