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October 23, 2021

Ben Lomond youth theater returns to in-person shows

Each year, Ben Lomond’s Little People’s Repertory Theater (LPRT) for children 8-14 hosts its annual summer theater program, culminating in a public performance that’s part campy, part sci-fi, part Marvel-ous and 100% original.

In 2020, LPRT Executive Director Jannine Chadwick held her breath as she and her crew produced a streaming performance of their annual show. This year, though, “live” might find its way back to Ben Lomond’s Park Hall, which is where the musicals are performed, and have been for 25 years.

“We will be performing 10 live shows,” Chadwick said. “We have slightly reduced seating from normal years due to Covid concerns, with the exception of our two Thursday shows which are significantly reduced and are pod-style seating. We will be streaming one, possibly two of our sold-out shows, (dates tbd.)”

Over the last year, Chadwick said LPRT learned many things from the pandemic-related restrictions that forced them to think on their feet and modify their program without knowing what to expect from week to week. In addition, when the shelter-in-place order was first implemented, they had only just procured the LPRT Annex, a small storefront on Mill Street in Ben Lomond.

“We were planning to expand our program to offer year-round performing arts classes. All of that abruptly stopped by the end of March,” Chadwick said. “By the time summer rolled around and kids had been out of school for a few months, we had heard from families that kids were starved for connection, little did they know … They were willing to do anything to be together face-to-face. So were we. We got really creative about how to do ‘process and product’ and we made a full-length movie.” 

Chadwick said the kids met in small groups, and they edited the film together over eight months. The film eventually showed it at the Boardwalk drive-in. 

“I think we all felt caught up in the ‘if you build it they will come’ magic,” Chadwick said.

As is typical for LPRT, the staff worked to create a blend of literature and pop culture, culminating in this year’s stew of “Alice in Wonderland” meets “The Avengers,” complete with eclectic costumes, original choreography and musical numbers that have been customized to work with the play’s theme. More than 60 local young people are participating in this year’s performances, including some students who otherwise would have aged out, but have been grandfathered in due to the pandemic. Cast members are allowed to participate through junior high school or age 15, whichever comes first.

“Last year our graduating cast members, those entering high school, didn’t get the usual send off,” she said. “We provided them an opportunity to participate this summer, if they made the movie with us last year, yet missed out on some of the frills of being part of the live LPRT experience. We have some special privileges afforded to them, like coming out on stage during intermission and meeting younger audience members. They also get a special acknowledgment in front of the audience after the closing show.”

Chadwick said the LPRT staff and participants continue to follow many Covid-related precautions, such as mask-wearing and temperature checks prior to rehearsals.

“We know anything can happen, and we have learned to be flexible; mostly, we are just grateful to be together,” Chadwick said. “I have never seen such well-behaved kids. I know the last year and a half has been really hard on them. A number of our families lost homes in the CZU fires right as our production ended last summer. Seeing them be creative, social, communal, and supportive has been healing for actors as well as their families and for staff. It’s a return to normal.”

“Alice’s Avengers in Underland” runs from July 21-Aug. 1, with special socially distanced shows on Thursdays. Tickets and information can be found online at www.lprt.org.

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