Little Red Riding Hood is sick, Paul the Woodcutter is fighting to overcome shyness, and the Three Little Pigs blow their exit by running almost all the way home.
The first rehearsal in a week was a tough one at Lakewood’s Southgate Elementary School, but everyone involved is aware the show must go on.
“I’ve done a lot of things in school that were easy, and this was a challenge,” fifth-grader David Walston said. “I have to memorize lines, and I’ve never done that. I have to stay in character during the whole play, because I’m the wolf and react to different lines spoken onstage.
“It’s my first play, and I’m the main character. I like that.”
There’s no telling how many stars may be born in “Big Bad,” which will be performed twice by 18 children at school — and then, on March 30, twice at the Lakewood Playhouse.
Part of a scholarship grant from the Clover Park Rotary, this is the third annual play produced at Southgate and performed at the Lakewood Playhouse.
“I had tears in my eyes watching them the last two years,” said Ernest Heller, a Rotary member whose fingerprints are all over this project. “Some kids barely speak English — it’s not their first language — but they did so well. They learn a lot from working with teammates, following instruction and hitting their marks.
“These are our lowest-income area kids, and we wanted to introduce them to theater.”
Heller is a Lakewood Municipal Court judge who also happens to be a theater-lover. He and others take joy in watching the program evolve.
“The first year, I don’t think kids fully understood what the opportunity was,” Southgate Principal Charlotte Clouse said. “The next year, they remembered the play and had more interest. This year there was a lot more interest.”
Over 21/2 days, 178 children from first through fifth grade auditioned for the play. Every child in the production has between four and 30 lines of dialogue.
“We’re performing the trial of the Big Bad Wolf, and the play includes characters from a dozen children’s fairy tales,” director Hally Phillips said. The cast includes the wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, the three pigs, the Brothers Grimm, Old King Coal and his son, Briquette.
“This is my first play, but I love acting out stuff at home with my mom and sister,” said fifth-grader Ivette Munoz Castro, aka Snow White.
“When I tried out, I thought I might be Little Red Riding Hood or one of the Three Little Pigs. I’ve got a loud voice,” Ivette said. “I’ve got 15 lines, and that’s a lot. I’m really trying to memorize them.”
Ninety-three percent of the students at Southgate are in the free or reduced-cost lunch program, and for more than half, English is their second language.
“Many of the families would not otherwise have these opportunities, and we all feel theater is a life skill,” said Casi Wilkerson of the Lakewood Playhouse. “If you get it in school, great — but many don’t have it in their school system any more.”
Even students who don’t win a part or can’t be in the play are reached.
“We made it our goal to make sure each child got touched with theater, so we’ve been able to reach each student by going into their class during art time,” Wilkerson said. “We give them a taste of theater.”
Those in the cast are enthusiastic.
“I saw the play last year and thought ‘If they have auditions again, I’m going to try out,’” said first-grader Jimena Toledo-Cisneros, one of the three pigs. “When I was picked I went home and said ‘Mom! Mom! Mom! I’m in the play!’
“It’s fun being one of the Three Little Pigs, because we all help each other.”
Paul the Woodcutter has to testify about using his ax to slice the wolf open and free Ms. Riding Hood and her grandmother. The role of Paul went to a thoughtful second-grader, Dre Terrobias.
“I’m shy, and I thought this would help me get past that,” he said. “I’m still nervous, but it is getting easier.”
Will he pursue theater in the future?
“Next year, if there’s a play, I’ll probably let my little brother do it,” Dre said. “He’s even shyer than I am.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/larue