Living the hard-knock life

Middle school presents classic musical 'Annie'

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— Dozens of Steamboat Springs Middle School students will be living a hard-knock life this week.

For the first time since it performed "Peter Pan" six years ago, the middle school is once again putting on a theater production.

"Annie," the hit Broadway musical about a Depression-era orphan determined to find her parents, hits the high school stage for three nights this week, and about 200 middle school students will be part of it.

"We are so excited," said co-producer and middle school teacher Ceci Shikles. "It's so neat to watch the kids grow and learn in different ways."

"Annie" will be the first theatrical production for most of the students participating. Roles in the musical vary from acting and singing parts to stage managers, light and sound technicians, prop coordinators and ushers. Any student who wanted to participate in the production was given a role, and anyone who wished to perform was given a role on stage.

"If you put in the effort and the gumption to get involved, you'll be rewarded," co-producer and middle school teacher Ann Keating said. "Everybody's important."

The students are involved in every aspect of the musical -- a group of them even made the city skyline that will serve as a backdrop for the show. A middle school photography crew has followed the production since day one, snapping shots with digital cameras to create a photo journal of the show.

"Kids really run the show," Shikles said. "Sixth-graders with power tools, grinning from ear to ear. The kids will be running the sound, doing the spotlights. That's when they realize, 'hey, nobody's looking over my shoulder. That's the whole point -- they learn responsibility."

More than anything else, Shikles and Keating hope participating students learn commitment to a project, responsibility and communication. Plus, having sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students working together provides its benefits.

"We're really excited about them all being together," Shikles said. "It will be a great opportunity for them to integrate."

But that doesn't mean the atmosphere surrounding rehearsals has been anything short of professional.

"It's a first-time experience for all of them, but why can't you have high expectations?" Shikles asked. "Kids usually reach them."

Middle school English and theater teacher Rusty DeLucia is directing the production. DeLucia has an extensive background in theater, beginning with her time under the skillful direction of Perry-Mansfield co-founder Charlotte Perry.

"I've been working with younger children since I was 15 years old," DeLucia said. "It's my life and my passion. I love every second of it."

Ten minutes at an "Annie" rehearsal is plenty of time to realize this production is all business.

In her nasally New York accent, DeLucia barks out directions in a no-nonsense manner.

"Lord help me if you're late getting on stage," DeLucia told the cast at Friday's first full rehearsal. "This is the last time anyone will throw you a line. You're on your own up there."

For the most part, students obey and adopt the professional demeanor of the production.

And despite the cast's lack of experience, DeLucia is optimistic about the three nights of performances that conclude Saturday night.

"There's a magic about kids," she said. "All of a sudden they get on stage and the magic just happens. I'm sure it will be spectacular."

Middle school faculty serves an important role in the production, from Principal Tim Bishop, who gave the go-ahead for the show, to science teacher Brad Kindred, who is helping high school senior Carter Dunham teach middle school light technicians the ins and outs of the trade.

Music teacher Susie Ritter and high school band teacher Dan Isbell are coordinating the show's music, which includes an 11-piece middle school orchestra. Jedd DeLucia, Rusty's son, flies in Monday night from San Francisco to take over set design.

"We have such talented directors," Shikles said. "We have all the pieces of a professional production."

But there have been challenges along the way.

Finding appropriate props and costumes to fit the 1930s setting has been tedious and, at times, expensive work.

Rehearsal scheduling also has been a chore, but Shikles and Keating credit a helpful school staff for shuffling school schedules and allowing class absences. The middle school's new flexible schedule also has played an enormous role freeing up time for rehearsals.

Attendance is mandatory and tracked, and all students must maintain a 'C' or better average to continue participating. Students must pre-arrange absences with their teachers and get any and all missed schoolwork.

Eighth-grader Alex Uriarte, who was hand selected by DeLucia to be a stage manager, said the production process has been great.

"It's a fun process because it gives you a lot to do," she said. "It gives you a sense of responsibility."

Uriarte has little doubt regarding the success of the performances.

"It's going to be great," she said.

Thursday is opening night, with evening shows following on Friday and Saturday. Shikles and Keating hope tickets sell out before the shows. As of Friday, approximately 65 percent of tickets were sold, Shikles said.

Proceeds from tickets will fund the vast majority of the production, which has a budget of about $20,000. Grants will cover about $3,500 of the budget.

"We have to sell out to break even," Kindred said.

Proud parents beware -- theater etiquette will play an important role in the show's success.

"The only acceptable recognition during musicals is applause," DeLucia said.

"We will start on time," Shikles said. "And we don't want the show interrupted."

The audience will be encouraged to remain in its seats, and bathroom breaks should be taken before the show, during intermission, or after the show is over, Shikles said.

For ticket information, call the middle school at 879-1058.

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