YouTheatre serves up "Once On This Island" | ParkRecord.com

YouTheatre serves up "Once On This Island"

Greg Marshall, Of the Record staff

"Go crazy," Jane Talley instructs at the end of "Mama Will Provide," a song and dance number from "Once On This Island." "When you do your thing, what will the audience do?" she asks.

Several of the 20 or so YouTheatre actors respond in unison. "Applause!"

Then the music starts again. The girl at the front of the stage, Hana Gottlieb, an 11 year old at McPolin Elementary school, sings. Her long curly hair and tie-dye shirt suggest humidity and tropical heat. The set, a large sun of mosaic and paint, adds to the illusion. Nearly everything on stage at Monday’s dress rehearsal was student-made. The Kimball Art Center’s Young Artists Academy built the set, and painted a flowing design on the stage.

"Once On This Island" plays May 14-16 at the Egyptian Theatre. The show runs for an hour, without intermission, and shows start at 7 p.m. Adult tickets cost $8. Children’s tickets cost $5.

YouTheatre productions are a chance for students to learn and vet their acting chops. For "Once On This Island," some students read Hans Christian Anderson’s "The Little Mermaid," the fairy tale that was later adapted for book and musical. Hana, who has played parts in "Charlie Brown" and last summer’s production of "Frog and Toad," decided to research her role on YouTube. She plays Asaka, mother earth.

"I learn so much about plays with YouTheatre," she said.

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The play tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with a Creole boy from a wealthy family. Besides two disparate economic worlds, the play chronicles the feuds among the gods of love, death, Earth and water. At root, the story is a folk tale about unrequited love. Since workshops and rehearsals began this winter, Talley said she has hoped to impart the importance of oral storytelling to her students.

"Cultures endure, and survive and celebrate, through song and dance," she explained.

Nate Hisamoto, a 16-year-old sophomore at Park City High School, said YouTheatre productions are for serious stage lovers, not just family members. "It’s not like school plays where everyone goofs around," he said, looking young yet wizened for his role as Papa Ge, god of death.

The gods aren’t friendly, explained Carly Stevens. Their fighting both fuels and mimics the human malfeasance on the island. Carly, 14, is an eighth grader at Treasure Mountain International. Performers range in age from six to 17, and it’s one of the strengths of the production. "Once On This Island" is her first YouTheatre production. "I like whole island theme," she said. "The songs are percussive and they’re fun to sing along to."

Carly admitted to being a little nervous for opening night Thursday, but unlike the love stricken characters in the play, she said they have nothing to worry about.