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Are You Sure This Is a School Play?

Are You Sure This Is a School Play?
Posted on 03/06/2018
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the production crew was alive with excitement and activity. In one corner, the color was added to background greenery. In another, brightly painted flats of purple, pink, and green started to take shape. While against a back wall, a set of palm fronds came to life. Just a few yards away, the beginnings of a lair began to form. If you didn’t know better, you might think this was backstage at The Buell Theatre, but it was Mortensen Elementary, where a frenzy of final preparation was underway for the school’s newest musical.

“It all started back with two sixth-graders that walked up to me and said ‘Miss Brown, we’d like to do a play, could you help us?’ I run down to Sue and say ‘Can you help me?’ We started this drama club with sixth-graders,” explained Mortensen art teacher Deb Brown.

“We just kind of guided them into something that was presentable. It was well received,” said financial secretary Sue Corbett.

That was more than eight years ago, and with each production, the props, the costumes, the scenery, and the technical preparation has gotten more and more sophisticated. Brown, Corbett, and Mortensen music teacher Mark Chorney recruit family and parent volunteers to get it all done. And in the case of this show, “The Little Mermaid,” they needed a small army.

“My husband, he’s been doing sets. I talked him into…he’s got an artistic eye, so I had him build some sets way back when my daughter went to Chatfield, and we did after prom. I always talk him into doing something for our shows here,” explained Corbett.

Pool noodles and spray foam insulation are the next best thing to real undersea coral.

“We have a lot of parents who also show up. This is the parent’s chance to come and be a part of the show. We’ve also had teachers,” said Corbett. “But we’ve grown so much with the sets. We’ve just added so much more. We always strive each year to bring it another step up so that we grow.”

An oversized hoop skirt will contain the evil Ursula, complete with hand-operated tentacles.

“It’s a community venture, and it’s just seeing what the kids get out of it. It ignites all of us, and it just brings out the best of us,” said Chorney. “It’s a great way for kids to learn how to imagine. What better thing is there to do? What better kind of make-believe is there than doing musical theatre.”

Wireless mics were laid out in preparation for rehearsal, and there were a lot of those – three hours, twice a week, for four months. Opening night came in a rush.

“The Little Mermaid” is a bona fide hit.

“A lot of kids take this on and are very committed to it, and rise to the challenge,” said Chorney. “We set the bar high for them with realistic expectations, but they also learn how to do that hard work, how to apply themselves and set their values.”

“When the curtain closed, you should see them, they’re all high fiving each other, ‘we did it, another one,’” said Brown.

“They were all ready to do it again,” added Corbett.

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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