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March 13. 2014 12:07AM

The Nose Knows

Excitement grows for school production of 'My Son Pinocchio Jr'


Amherst Middle School production of My Son Pinocchio Jr 


BEHIND THE SCENES: “My Son Pinocchio Jr.” involved students in all aspects of a theater production, including these members of a lighting crew. 

There's generally a buzz that energizes a theater as cast and crew prepare to unveil a show, but when a theater production draws students into all elements of the production, that level of excitement heightens.

"There is this crazy, special energy when everyone is doing their thing on stage and back stage, like a three-ring circus times 10," said Amherst Middle School Theater Club Producer Denise Jacobs. "I love being in the middle of all of that — helping where I can and watching it all hum along."

The club this winter celebrates its 10th anniversary season with a rollicking production of "My Son Pinocchio Jr."

The club was established to give students in grades five through eight some experience in action both in and out of the spotlight.

Director/Choreographer Jennifer Stover has been with the club from its founding.

"We established a dedication to this club, which I believe was the result of a true passion for theater and the desire to foster its opportunities," said Jennifer Stover, a founding member of the club and its director and choreographer.

Over the past decade, the club has grown to include about 120 children each year.

"Our policy is to find a place for everyone," Jacobs said. "If there isn't a spot in the cast, we make sure to involve them in a crew."

A typical cast size is 65, the maximum that can fit on stage, and there are several crews, including set design, hair and makeup, lights and sound, publicity and concessions.

"This club promotes friendships between 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds and everyone in between," Stover said.

Each crew involves a mix of ages, and is led by at least one or two parent volunteers.

"Walk down the hall at AMS during a Tuesday or Thursday rehearsal, and you'll experience a busy, lively hive of kids who all know their jobs and places," show officials said. "They work with paintbrushes, cameras, computers, costumes and more. They are dancing, singing and rehearsing. It is a well-oiled machine."

Stover, Jacobs and music director Kim Whitehead, comprising the directing team, said they try to raise the bar on the level of productions.

"Practice, practice, practice!" Jacobs said. "No one on our Production Staff ever says, 'Oh well, it's good enough for a middle school show.' Everyone involved is always striving to make it the best it can be. And our students are amazingly good at what they do."

This year's production, "My Son Pinocchio Jr." is by veteran composer Stephen Schwartz, also known for the hit musicals "Wicked" and "Godspell." "Pinocchio" focuses on themes of individuality, self-esteem and the relation of parents and children.

Every production brings a new set of joys and challenges, and this year the directing team is paying extra attention to stage-craft.

"How do you show the inside of a whale?" Jacobs said. "As a period piece, we needed to dress about 55 actors as 19th–century villagers — not to mention additional costumes for fairies, marionettes, animals, perfect children and delinquents. And then there is the small matter of a nose that grows and a puppet that turns into a boy — both on-stage. It is a staggering task."

Past shows have included "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "High School Musical" and "Dear Edwina."


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