Last Wednesday, a bag of lobster claws, a cookie jar, a bubble machine and glittery party hats elicited squeals of delight and excitement from 37 middle school students.
Rebecca Spear sat on the Evergreen Junior High School stage and showed her faithful crew the props they would be using for their upcoming production, “Alice in Wonderland,” debuting on Feb. 27.
The stage quickly burst into a hive of activity as students scattered to their respective places for the play’s opening number, which introduced the empty gym to curious Alice through song and dance.
The enthusiastic fifth- through eight-graders are the latest examples of how Evergreen Junior High School has changed up its drama program for the better, said Principal Kim Anderson.
It wasn’t long ago that the drama program only attracted a few students here or there, Anderson recounted. Then, in an effort to bolster the program, Anderson took her middle school students to see other theater acts around the Flathead, from high school plays to professional productions in Whitefish.
The response, she said, was overwhelming.
“I think ‘High School Musical’ put them over the top,” Anderson said. “I literally could not get these kids to stop singing during the play.”
Now, after the Evergreen School Board decided to allocate $4,000 to the middle school drama program, the school is getting ready to showcase its talent with “Alice in Wonderland.” The play will be free for anyone who would like to attend, Anderson said, with the gym seating about 300.
Superintendent of Evergreen Schools Joel Voytoski said he was pleased that the drama department could get an extra boost this year, but it may not be possible in the future with tight budgets.
“We’re hoping to figure out a way to provide some sort of drama or production experience for our kids every year,” Voytoski said.
Directed by Spear, a veteran of the Alpine Theatre Project, the play is based on the 1951 Disney film and the novels “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.
The audience will follow three versions of Alice – played by Serra Monroe, Cassidy Smith and Emily Utterback – as she changes height throughout the story and tries to find her way through the odd and fascinating world of Wonderland.
She has some help from the Cheshire Cat, played by Julia Denna, Mauna McCorkle and Coral Bouchard, as well as the ever-tardy White Rabbit, played by Breanna Wiersma.
Other classic characters include the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and a garden full of sassy flowers.
“The kids are really excited. I just think it’s so cool that the board is giving kids this creative outlet,” Spear said before Wednesday’s rehearsal.
The play will have plenty of musical numbers, including solos, Spear said.
Anderson, who many credit as the drama program’s biggest supporter and fan, said the acting experience would help the student academically with public speaking, reading and leadership skills. It will also help boost the high school programs when the kids move up to that level, she said.
And just as importantly, the play will give the community a chance to see how special their kids are, Anderson said.
“It should be an amazing play. We’re hoping that the entire community will come out and watch,” Anderson said. “We want to showcase our kids.”
Alice in Wonderland debuts Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., followed up by a Feb. 28 performance at 2 p.m. Both performances are at the Evergreen Junior High School gym.
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