For 10 years, the students of Lincoln Middle School have thrilled local residents with professional-like productions of classic tales like “Momma Mia,” all while gaining the skills that organizers say will help them on the road to future success.
With support from the Santa Monica Education Foundation, Lincoln Middle School PTSA and local company Theatre 31, this year’s cohort of participants is comprised of more than 100 students who will attempt to embody the legendary characters of “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.”
The opening night of the local middle school play is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, but residents will also have a few more opportunities to catch the production during the weekend. Tickets are available online and possibly at the door, according to show organizers, who said residents can find more information online at lincolnlionking.bpt.me.
A decade in the making
Many of the dozens of participants in this year’s production are currently preparing to don eye-popping costumes as they attempt to embody legendary characters while they sing and dance in an African savanna brought to life by costumer Krista Daidone. Others are working behind the scenes to perfect the show’s technical aspects, which is something that once seemed out of the realm of possibility when the theatre program first began at LMS.
“This is the tenth play that I’ve produced here since the Santa Monica Ed. Foundation went on the lookout for someone that could come and bring a Theatre Arts program to both Lincoln and John Adams,” Artistic Director Chad Scheppner said in an interview this week, laughing alongside a parent volunteer as the pair reminisced on how far the program has come since its inception.
“I think the expectations of the program have changed over the years, based upon what the community wanted… It began as more of a workshop sort of thing where we were doing it once a week for a couple of hours and we were going to do an informal sort of presentation towards the end,” Scheppner said.
But as the show progressed through the years, the number of volunteers increased along with the funding, which has afforded Scheppner and his students the opportunity to put on more than just an average middle school play for those who choose to attend.
“We have choreographers and physical theater. We’ve got silks, circus arts and it all gets incorporated,” said parent producer Sarah Barrett.
And with only a few days remaining until opening day, children will be scrambling this weekend to ensure they have perfected every aspect of the show, including the lights and sound they will be in charge of running from a booth.
Actors Monty Oxman and Diego Guerra said they be hard at work preparing to take on their respective roles of Scar and Young Simba, while sixth-graders Sophie Castellanos and Rachel Orsolini will be busy gearing up microphones and sharing their detailed notes in an effort to help the director and the cast.
And that’s only a part of the work that’s gone into the upcoming production.
“You know, when we first started, we didn’t have any of this, but it’s such an incredible opportunity to have that ability to provide real-world experience,” Barrett said. “And we couldn’t do it without parents’ support.”
In fact, this is the seventh year that Daidone has contributed her time to handcraft the show’s custom costumes — and she is one of many parents who’ve helped inspire the young minds of Lincoln Middle School.
“I learned so much working with Krista,” eighth-grader Jordan Klein said, describing how Daidone helped her pin fabrics in preparation to be sewn at home. “It’s rewarding to create something for people’s enjoyment and to see my friends’ reactions to their costumes. I can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction.”
Barrett said the experience that Klein and other students receive while working on-set is incredible because the kids who tend to be shy and don’t really have an interest in being on stage are still learning and discovering the importance of their work.
“And we really don’t dumb it down for the kids and we expect — I think — more of them than maybe normal programs may,” Scheppner added, stating: “It’s not just the skills that they’re getting as young artists of the theater, it’s also the social aspect that we’re getting at too.”
Due to the size of LMS’ theater cast, Scheppner admits the program can get challenging at times, but the perseverance of all who are involved shows how much everybody cares about the production and its participants.
“I think it’s one of the most difficult things you can do, but again, it goes back to the all-inclusiveness of the program and trying to give as many children and opportunity that we possibly can,” Scheppner said. “So, if you have children and you live in this area, it’s just a wonderful thing to do with your kids and it’s something that they’ll remember. And feeling a part of this community and supporting the students in this community is something I think is important.”