“When I sit in the audience, it’s like being a proud poppa,” co-director Patrick Warren of Ashland said. “It’s their show now. You’ve given them everything you can throw at them, and now you just watch them perform and do their thing.”
The Ashland Center Players produced seven performances, beginning June 23 and the last taking place on July 1. Each performance has been well-attended, Warren said. The Saturday, June 16 matinee show drew a sold out crowd at the Hanover Tavern. The Hanover Tavern holds between 150 and 170 seats, Warren said.
After the audition process, the Ashland Center Players had one month to rehearse the nearly two and a half hour play, Cody Hall, 20, of Ashland said. Hall, a rising junior and musical theater major at Christopher Newport University, was an intern and helped as an assistant director, stage manager, and backup cast member in “The Wiz.”
“Everyone gets nervous and you can tell the cast members got nervous at the first show, but as they got going into the play, they became more relaxed,” Hall said. “Everyone’s been doing what they need to do. I’m incredibly proud of these kids. It’s amazing what they do under pressure. I forget that these kids are only in middle school and high school, and some have only been doing theatre for their first time.”
The cast was made up of nearly 50 rising first through 12th graders. Lorie Foley, founding member of the Ashland Center Players, producer, and co-director, said that dealing with kids comes with some unpredictability. Warren said that some of the students who play the main characters have been very good at thinking on the spot. Specifically, Warren said that Devon Shelton, who played the Lion, was very good at ad-libbing.
“There’s a time when the lights go out for a blackout, and [Shelton] comes up with things to say during this and the audience just eats it up,” Warren said. “For example, sometimes those blackouts aren’t quite as quick so there’s sometimes an awkward silence, but these kids fill that silence…it keeps the show new and refreshing.”
Both Warren and Hall said that they and Foley were extremely proud of this year’s cast and crew.
“When Lorie suggested we do ‘The Wiz,’ I was apprehensive,” Warren said. “After the first audition, I thought, ‘We are going to be fine.’ The kids that walked in the door during auditions, there was lots of talent. So after that point I knew the show was going to be great.”
Moving forward into their remaining performances, the Players plan to approach each performance as if it were the first and last time they were to perform it.
“Our focus is to take each performance one step at a time, making sure each performance is better than the last, and making sure to keep having energy because you know people get tired the more they perform,” Hall said. “So they have to act like it’s the first time they’re doing it.”
The Ashland Center Players have three remaining performances, which will begin at 7 p.m. on June 29, June 30, and July 1. All shows take place at the Hanover Tavern, and tickets can either be bought at the door for $15 or in advance for $10 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.