YouTheatre remembers how they learned to read with ‘Junie B. Jones’
May 10, 2016
Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre Director Jamie Wilcox wants people, young and old, to remember what it was like when they started to read.
She wants people to remember the quirky malapropisms, the making up of words, but mostly she wants parents and their kids who are involved in her YouTheatre production to have a good time.
That’s why she selected "Junie B. Jones: The Musical" as the spring YouTheatre production that will open to the public at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14.
The one-hour production, which is based on the books by Barbara Park, is about Junie B. Jones, an "almost 6-year-old," and her adventures while learning to read.
"It’s always fun finding musicals that push and develop kids in theatre, but also that are enjoyable to watch and perform," Wilcox told The Park Record. "We have an account with Musical Theatre International (MTI) and I get their emails with all their new stuff that comes out." A couple of years ago, MTI announced the development of "Junie B. Jones: the Musical." "I put it on my radar, because I loved those books," Wilcox said. "My daughter, who is 11 now, used to read me those books when she was in kindergarten and first grade."
Wilcox thought it would be fun for the kids to present the musical because of its style.
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"Junie B., herself, has such a voice and I think if any little girl reads the narration, she starts speaking in the Junie B. voice because of the way [author] Barbara Parks has written these books," she said. "They may all be a little different, but extremely original in the way of speaking."
Wilcox enjoys selecting plays that are based on books because it promotes literacy.
"That is so important," she said. "I am so glad we got to pick a show that shows how important literacy is in the younger years."
She also knows parents will come because the stories can be nostalgic.
"A few years ago, I directed ‘Pipi Longstocking,’ which was nostalgic and sweet for me as well, and it’s so great to be able to do these kinds of shows, because it takes them back to that point in their childhood." That’s why Wilcox believes "Junie B. Jones" will sell out this week.
"I think the parents, like me, will watch this and see how fast their kids are growing up," she said.
The play also puts things in perspective for the actors and crew.
"We have teens who are playing 6-year-olds, so, they need to find that part of themselves again," Wilcox said. "Sometimes we forget what we were like at that age, and we’ve all gotten to explore that. We also have two actors who play mom and dad, so it was fun having them step into their parents’ shoes."
This year, there are two leads who will tackle Junie B.’s role — Bella Shaw and Katie Lobrot.
"They have been with our program for a few years now and are both wonderful people and are the examples that we hope YouTheatre develops," Wilcox said. "They are hardworking, genuine and sweet and so talented." This is the first time Wilcox has double cast a lead role for a YouTheatre production.
"I’m really against double casting because I don’t think it works with younger actors," she explained. "That said, both of these young women had strong auditions that were much different than each other and original, that I thought I couldn’t give them both the role." Although Wilcox went against her own rule, the exception worked out well, because each actress will get three performances.
"We will do three school matinees and three performances for the public," Wilcox said.
The school matinees will be presented at the Egyptian Theatre for the Weilenmann School of Discovery, Parleys Park, McPolin and South Summit students on May 11 and 12.
"As for the public performances, one gets opening night and the other gets closing night, and we do a matinee Saturday afternoon," Wilcox said. "So, one gets the matinee."
Wilcox pointed out that the musical was originally written for adults to play children for an audience comprised of children.
"We have done a couple of shows like that already — ‘The Wind in the Willows’ being one of them," she said. "And while these were written for adults, we don’t adhere to that, because these kids can do this. I mean, I have to keep reminding myself that because these kids are slaying it." Over all there are 40 students ages 10 to 16 working on the production.
"There will be 30 kids onstage and 10 behind the scenes as our tech crew who have been making props, helping with costumes and making set pieces," Wilcox said. "They will also run our show, which means they will run the spotlights and operate the light boards and things like that."
In addition, Wilcox, who directed the production, had help from stage manager Penny Pendleton, choreographer Carolyn Hatvigsen, music director Arianne Montague and tech crew instructor Jason Sullivan.
"They have all worked so hard with us and have been amazing," Wilcox said.
Wilcox knows that some parents wouldn’t let their children read the "Junie B. Jones" books because the lead character had a tendency to be sassy.
"We’re not trying to glorify that she gets sassy, because every time she does, mom or dad or Miss Scary gives her the look," Wilcox explained. "We want to show that she has these struggles but is always learning something." The musical also isn’t trying to glorify that Junie B. speaks incorrectly.
"I was able to write a study guide that will be passed out when students come to the matinees and there is a worksheet that helps them correct the mistakes that Junie B. says," Wilcox said. "The thing we want to convey is that we all make mistakes at that age and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s all a faze and this musical brings to the forefront that we need to enjoy the things we go through, because that’s life."
The Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre program will present "Junie B. Jones: The Musical" at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, at 7 p.m. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee on May 14. Tickets are $14 for adults and $9 for youth ages 17 and younger. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .