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Kitsap Children's Musical Theatre takes audience on magic carpet ride
There is a lesson to be learned backstage, amidst the hullabaloo of preparations at the Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre: The ability to give a good performance depends very little on one’s height, and even less so on one’s years spent on Earth. Some of the group’s tiniest performers can’t quite see over the tops of the chairs in which their audience will sit, but rest assured they’ll entertain nonetheless.
“These are professional actors, except for the salary,” said Melissa Palmer, mom to 12-year-old Alex Palmer, who plays Prince Achmed in the theater’s production of “Aladdin” this month. “We’re not a second grade class play.”
The Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre turns a decade old this spring, heralding in the occasion with its vibrant “Aladdin” production, colorful as a tulip field in June. The troupe has performed two musicals a year since 2000, when it first put on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with a cast of 30 kids. Now the program has 150 members, from ages 8-18.
The theater’s ultimate goal is to fund its own performance center, though its immediate need is rehearsal space. But until those things fall into place, the organization continues in its tradition of opportunity for all: Every child who auditions gets a role.
“It doesn’t matter where you are from, you’re welcome here,” said Kerby Criss, the theater’s founder and executive director. “There are so many kids that fit here that feel like they don’t fit anywhere else.”
The Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre is in the business of fitting in twofold: It has a history of shaping shy tenderfoots on the stage into confident performers and active members of the organization. Many of the kids join the theater’s Teen Staff as they age through the program, and the Rising Stars traveling show was created for some of the theater’s youngest and greenest members. That second production, which runs alongside “Aladdin,” means the boards will be less crowded and each performer will have more time in the limelight.
The theater is also in search of its physical place in the community, a space it can finally fit in and take form after years of improvisation. The group has rehearsed in community centers, schools, churches, parks and libraries during its 10 years, each location dependent upon the growing cast size (remember, no child is turned away) and the fixed schedules of various school and community functions. Criss, who started the Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre after her experience with a similar group in San Jose, Calif., hopes to first land a lasting rehearsal space, as the group now practices in a few of Viking Way’s empty auto facilities. She has grown the theatre into a self-funded, all-volunteer machine, with several department heads and help from dozens of parents.
Russell Poffenroth, a parent and vice president of public relations, said the theater is taking steps toward having a permanent address with the formation of a board of directors and a call to the community.
“What we’re starting to do is get sort of a grass roots process going right now,” he said. “We realize that we’re going to have to reach out into the community, both into Kitsap County and probably the larger Puget Sound area, to be able to reach that ultimate goal.”
Performances now take place at the North Kitsap Auditorium in Poulsbo, which goes first and foremost to the needs of area schools.
Behind the thick red curtain of the North Kitsap Auditorium stage, and in the channels of hallways behind it, there looks to be a choreographed chaos. Affectionately, it’s known as Hell Week. Kids in bright, shimmering scarves, gold sequins and face paint hustle to mic checks, others await the start of rehearsal wearing feathered turbans and tunics and jewels in their hair. Volunteers Maxine Kelley and Tammy Wagner sew together bright shades of fabrics while someone, somewhere out of sight, sings out “make way for Prince Ali.” Welcome to Agrabah.
Volunteer Coordinator Katie Staker said parents chip in for months in advance of a show, working up sets, staging the sound system, sewing costumes and driving kids to rehearsal. Each production is put on by two different casts which alternate performances — another attempt to include the many kids who turn out for auditions.
“I think being onstage and performing is the best thing a kid can do and I want to give the opportunity to as many kids as possible,” said Criss, 50. She gathers her cast before the start of rehearsal, praises their work and instructs them on improvements. She talks with them easily, and shows no doubt they understand blocking and stagecraft as well as mature performers. Criss said kids are often underused in the theater, and people are just as often “blown away” by their skills.
Alex Palmer, dressed in his princely regalia, said he’s learned plenty in his time with Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre, including “society skills: there are a lot of different people and you have to work together.”
Fifteen-year-old Rachel Steinlicht, who plays Jasmine, said she plans to always be a part of community theater, and is learning this time around, with “Aladdin,” what it’s like to be cast as a lead and have “more of the show resting on your shoulders.”
Sophomore Ben Staker, who played Scrooge in the troupe’s winter musical of the same name, is taking a lesson in crazy to play the genie.
“It’s the funnest role I can think of,” he said. “You can do whatever you want with your voice and have fun with it.”
Connor Delaney, 17, leads as Aladdin in a story full of pratfalls and rooftop chases.
“You watch some of these kids as they go from shy, barely able to get onstage during their first audition let alone sing something, to these very polished actors, as they develop and are coached and directed,” Poffenroth said, “It’s like wow, how do these kids do it?” WU
'A Whole New World'
“Aladdin” opened May 7, and will show next weekend at 7 p.m. Friday, May 21, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 22 and at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 23 at 1881 NE Hostmark, Poulsbo. Rising Stars will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 23. Next, the Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre will perform “Oliver.” To learn more, visit www.kcmt.org.