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Down the rabbit hole

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Photo courtesy of Zoey Cote Student Eden Novak gets ready to play the part of the Queen of Hearts in Newcastle Middle School’s “Alice in Wonderland,” with the help of mentor Heather Conley.
Summer Bonnar, NLJ Reporter

NMS after-school group stars with ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Last month, the Newcastle Middle School drama club performed “Alice in Wonderland,” their second production via Empowering Teens, the 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program at NMS. Haley Himrich, the program’s site coordinator, led the way in putting on the “Alice” production, with 17 Newcastle Middle School students helping to create an exciting experience for themselves and their audience.

As a local, Himrich  knows the importance of including opportunities like this through the schools. Although the after-school program’s drama club is new, Himrich said she has bright hopes and a deep investment in the group. According to Himrich,  the club was formed last year when the teachers noticed a heightened interest in acting among students.

Allie Haul, who played a storyteller in the production, revealed the level of student interest.

“I’ve always loved acting, and I’ve always felt like acting was my way to be,” she told the News Letter Journal.

The club rehearsed once a week to begin with, and then met more frequently as they got closer to the performance. Himrich explained that students were expected to practice their lines outside of rehearsal in order to properly prepare themselves and ensure that the performance was as good as it could be.

“We really tried to work together, and we did,” said Serenity Rayburn of the rehearsal experience. She was one of three students tabbed to play Alice.

Student Eden Novak also shared her perspective on rehearsals.

“[They] were sometimes a bit chaotic, but we got better as we went on and practiced,” she said.

The program also had a helping hand from a few other individuals at NMS, which lightened the load and made the performance run smoothly for the performers.

“I was truly blown away by the support shown by the middle school staff, as many came to the performance to support the kids,” Himrich said.

Himrich also had some hands-on help that made the show possible.

“We couldn’t have made this performance as successful without the help of Tamera Allen (the program director), Zoey Cote (adult mentor), and Tarah Parsons (parent). They helped with props, set design, costumes, makeup, and to help the show run smoothly,” Himrich said.

The help and support made it possible to have some flexibility and allow the kids to have fun with the play, she added.

Ethan Parsons played the White Rabbit, and he described his enthusiasm for the approach.

“We were able to customize everything. It was a really open play, having that flexibility in such a big play helped maximize the fun of being in such a great production with all my friends,” Parsons said.

Parsons is moving up to high school next year, so this was his last performance. However, plenty of fresh actors also had a great time with the production and are excited for next year.

Isabel Parsons, who played one of the three Alices in the cast, acted for the first time. Himrich explained that Isabel was one of the most hesitant participants and ended up with a big speaking role.

“I was really nervous, but all of my friends were doing it, and then I did it and found out I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of work but it was really fun,” Isabel confirmed.

Himrich’s favorite part of putting on productions like “Alice” is seeing students get comfortable on stage, and watching them grow a love for acting.

“The most exciting part of this experience was watching the students flourish. There were students who came into the production very confidently and soared to new heights. There were also students who were so shy at the beginning and ended up memorizing and performing a significant amount of lines,” she said.

A lot of the kids are passionate about the club, and Himrich said it is exciting for her and the other mentors to see the kids express themselves and grow through the program. While the program is new, she said, it is important to get kids interested and make it available to anyone who is interested. She eventually wants to grow the program and get more grades involved.

“I would recommend doing it because you get to interact with a lot of different people in other grades, and you get to try and experience new things,” Isabel Parsons said.

Lilly Parsons, who played the Mad Hatter, also has found a home in the program.

“I love being in the program. It is a lot of fun; there is a lot of cool stuff you can do with it,” she explained. “We are continuing to expand it and getting more people involved each year, and it is cool to see. It is a great experience if people want to feel more comfortable about their passion.”

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