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Draper Journal

From the stage to the heart: Summit Academy’s ‘Seussical, Jr.’ inspires passion and friendships

Feb 29, 2024 02:36PM ● By Julie Slama

About 60 students took part in this year’s musical, “Seussical Jr.,” at Summit Academy. (Photo courtesy of Summit Academy)

A few days after closing Summit Academy’s “Seussical the Musical, Jr.,” fifth-grade Lucas Bradshaw reflected on his experience.

The highlights weren’t singing or dancing in a few numbers, but rather, the cast.

“It was a really good opportunity to meet new people and spend more time with my (seventh-grade) sister,” he said. “I have a ton of friends who I can look forward to spending time with in middle school.”

Forming friendships was a common outcome among those in the musical and for choosing it in the first place, said director Aimee Rohling.

“It has a good message—a person’s a person no matter how small—so it’s about considering others and seeing things from somebody else’s perspective,” she said. “It’s about friends and supporting others when they’re going through a tough time.”

Thirty-five students in the production were supported by a 24-member stage tech class in the show that was performed in late January to packed audiences. Rehearsals began after the October auditions, which were open to fifth graders for the first time.

“We’re one school and they’re housed in this junior high hall now, so it was a great opportunity to include them,” Rohling said.

Seventh-grader Elsa Thomas chose and performed her 1-minute audition song, “I’m Just Ken.”

“It’s a fun show, so I picked a fun song,” she said.

Sixth-grader Laynie Bell, who grew up with family members involved in theater, said she auditioned because “I’m happier when I’m performing; it’s so much fun.”

Laynie portrayed the Cat in the Hat, the show’s narrator. She was joined by eighth-grader Will Stoker as Horton; seventh-grader Clara Hughes as Gertrude; sixth-grader Shelby Reardon as Mayzie; and sixth-grader Brett Carpenter as JoJo.

Eighth-grader Gianna Davis joined Rohling in directing the show.

Rohling said it was a student-driven production. She’d often empowered them, asking, “What can we do next? What do you want it to look like?”

“It’s always a highlight, seeing them teach each other, using their strengths to help everybody be better. We’d break into groups and every time, someone would step up, feeling confident with this part and lead the others through it,” she said. “We had some really exceptional sixth-grade singers this year, so they were helping their peers learn the music.”

Students also directed the art used for publicity for the show. Three students designed two program covers so they were both used throughout the run of the show and another student designed the flier that was distributed.

Stage crew students helped design the set and backdrops.

“We used a wooden box and painted it like a piano and pretended to play,” Shelby said.

Her mother, Megan, was a parent volunteer and music director.

“With the help of my music director, they had the opportunity to record their own background vocals for this show; they met with her over and she used her sound equipment and her studio,” Rohling said. “She took them through all of their singing parts and then they recorded it so when they are singing on stage, they had their own voices for their background. It was a new experience for them.”

That was an experience seventh-grader Clara appreciated.

“It was really cool to sing the music in the background and record it; it was awesome,” she said.

The show was supported by 10 parent volunteers who helped from hair and makeup to concessions and selling tickets. Bluffdale Arts and Sandy Arts provided costumes for the student thespians.

The students learned to walk in heels and to quickly make costume changes that involved tails as well as learned how to improvise and recover from missteps.

They also learned stage skills.

“We learned timing and how to show more feelings, like having a giant smile to oversell our emotions,” Elsa said.

While Shelby said they learned to better project their voices, Laynie recalls working on diction, “especially on the rhyming, wonky words.”

“Seussical” was the 16th show performed at Summit Academy.

“I like watching their journey. I like watching them take it and just become more confident; I love watching them develop their talents,” Rohling said. “It is super fun to see it be sprung on the unsuspecting family or audience who think they know everything about their kid and then, see the kid do something they didn’t know they could do or that they weren’t expecting. I love watching that every single time.”

Next year’s production will be a yet to be announced play.

“When selecting our production, I look for opportunities for everybody to shine in some way. I look for something the audience can take away from the show for their own personal lives and something fun that kids are going to enjoy sinking their teeth into,” she said.

During a typical school year, more than 100 students are involved in drama in either the musical or enrolled in one of the five theater classes during the school year, which is about 35% of student body.

“Theater is one of the best places to learn transferable skills no matter what you want to do in life. They’re learning teamwork and gaining confidence; they’re learning how to clearly communicate and being able to think on their feet. I tell them when they leave here, they should feel comfortable working with a group of people they’re not that familiar with and will not freak out speaking to a group of people they don’t know. They will have job interviews one day where they will speak to people they don’t know and theater will make them comfortable doing so. They’re having real world human interactions, which is becoming more important every year,” she said.

Rohling first got involved in theater as a preteen.

“I was 11 and I watched the Tony Awards and the way they told those stories that can drag you in, just clicked. My family took me to plays relatively quickly after—when you experience theater in real life, I knew I wanted to do that,” she said.

Her first role at age 12 was a townsperson in “Cinderella, Jr.” in South Jordan.

“One of the fun parts of theater, and I still see it with my students, is forming relationships, the inside jokes, the time spent together and doing something creative and different with people every day,” Rohling said. “At the end, you feel so accomplished when you’re able to show it to people and that they appreciate it.”

Laynie agrees: “Seeing everything come together was awesome.” 

“It actually surprised me that it did, but everyone got along, and we worked together,” Shelby said.

After those closing moments, they received hugs from teachers, families and friends and received praise. They remembered comments from one gentleman telling them that they “were as good as those on Broadway” to a youngster poking Clara saying, “she really is real.” 

However, the highlight for them was “more than anything, the friendships,” said Elsa, who was echoed by her new theater friends. λ