This article appeared in The Town Courier.
Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (and his beanstalk) and the Witch will take the stage of Arts Barn for two weekends in late October. Kensington Arts Theatre’s Second Stage (aka KAT Second Stage) will present “Into the Woods JR,” which is, essentially, the not-so-grim first act of the Tony Award-winning musical that interweaves the plots of several classic Brothers Grimm tales.
The one-hour-long junior version of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s show “ends happily,” said Fred Zirm, KAT Second Stage’s artistic director. “It’s in the second act that people die, are unfaithful, etc., so parents who know the full play or have seen the movie should not fear bringing younger children to this production.”
“True,” he acknowledged, “the Wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood, but she emerges unharmed.”
This is Zirm’s third year and fifth production with KAT Second Stage. After retiring in June 2014—he taught English and drama and directed productions in Landon School’s middle and upper schools, he said, “I found I missed directing and lucked into KAT Second Stage.”.
Although the age range of KAT Second Stage participants is typically 8 to 17, with middle schoolers in the majority, this “cast has more high school students than usual, so it has more seasoned performers,” Zirm said. Some cast members have been in four or five of his shows—like Zoe Fischthal, the Robert Clemente Middle School’s humanities magnet program eighth-grader who plays Cinderella’s father and serves as assistant to the director. “Into the Woods JR” is the 13-year-old Lakelands resident’s sixth Second Stage acting or assistant directing gig.
Zirm cited at least two differences between directing at Second Stage and Landon. First, at KAT Second Stage, “everyone is there because they love theater,” he said, whereas “at Landon, a boys’ school that did their productions with Holton-Arms, a girls’ school, they were sometimes there because they wanted to socialize.” In addition, since the actors come from various schools and communities, he must “focus more on building a community among the cast and crew.”
There was a “record turnout” for auditions, 50 actors vying for 22 roles,” Zirm said. “I think this is an indication of the kind of appeal the play has.” Each potential player had to sing a prepared song; read a short scene or two from the play—”they get to practice a bit before presenting”–and learn and perform some simple dance steps.
Thereafter, the schedule is demanding for the young actors, too. Beyond homework and other responsibilities, they must take part in rehearsals three to four nights a week from 7 to 9 or 9:30 p.m. plus two to three weekend sessions at the Arts Barn.
Zirm hopes participants “get several things from the process…First, I hope they have fun, focused fun, but fun nonetheless. I also hope they gain theatrical skills that help them not only perform well on stage, but also gain confidence off stage.”
Finally, he added, “We also try to instill a sense of teamwork in the cast and crew. Theater is a supremely collaborative art.”
Zirm said “the audience should expect a lively, fast-paced production with lots of great singing of great songs, coupled with humor and a good deal of physical movement. I also think we’ve come up with some creative angles they will not have seen before–even if they have seen the play multiple times.
“We are aiming for a production that is comprehensible for young children and entertaining for both children and adults”
KAT Second Stage will perform “Into the Woods JR” at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27, and at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 21, 22, 28 and 29. Tickets–$15, $12 for ages 14 and younger—are available at the Arts Barn box office. Call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.