story and photos by Ryan Saylor
The opening today (Thursday, July 24) of the Young Actors Guild rendition of "Really Rosie" may appear flawless to the crowd of children and parents, but director Gini Law said hours, days and weeks of hard work have gone into the production.
"The rehearsals have been three hours long and the ones here this week, we've been here for four and five hours at a time," she said, noting that auditions began about two months ago once all 29 cast members were assigned their roles.
While long hours of rehearsal would be a challenge for any group of actors, the cast of "Really Rosie" has age working against them, Law said.
"Age ranges are six to 14. And we have breaks. With this particular show, we have five main leads and then the rest of the ensemble kids are not in every scene, so they have a little bit of downtime, break time. But it has been a challenge for the five leads because they are on stage the entire time."
For 7th grader Shelby Hartwig, who portrays the play's namesake character, preparation for her starring performance was more challenging with hours of memorizing lines and learning lyrics for the play's several songs even after leaving play practice each night.
"I'm working like from when I get off practice to like eight o'clock. … three, four (hours)," she said.
Law anticipates that the long hours of work preparing for this week's performances will pay off and give the audiences a first class show. And she said the play would deliver a classic set of books to life for children and adults alike who grew up reading the works of author Maurice Sendak.
"The play is based on a Maurice Sendak book, a series of books — Maurice Sendak, who wrote 'Where the Wild Things Are' — and he based the character on a real life little girl that he knew back in the '40s. And he was so taken with her and her ability to draw in a crowd and her wild imagination and how she drew everybody in, that he kept sketch books and notebooks on her and everything she did. Years later, he wrote stories about her and her friends. She's a very dramatic little girl, take charge, and the whole show is based on desire to make the movie of her life. So she has all her friends audition for parts in the show and that's basically what each song is."
Law said the show would be on the same level as larger productions in bigger cities, allowing the Young Actors Guild production stand out from other local school or church productions.
"We use musical numbers, we use a live orchestra, we have a live band. That's always different for the kids. It's just better. We like using the live instruments. We have the big sets, pieces, the fly-in sets, and the big theater. It's just an all around … we just try to make it a bigger production."
Missy Gipson, executive director of YAG, said children of all ages should come to enjoy the show.
"Bring your kids, even if they are loud," she said. "This is children's theater. If kids are fidgety, we don't care."
Gipson said the play would include some limited interactive features for children in the crowd, including an alphabet song where children can hold up their letter when it is called out. Law said Friday night would even feature some goodies and giveaways for the audience of children and parents.
"… We partnered with the library, the Fort Smith Library. They wrote a grant and received their grant, so we partner with them. And Friday night is actually the library night," she said. "They're going to be handing out SWAG bags and they're going to have a red carpet, photos and all that kind of fund stuff. And if they bring a library card, they can be entered into a drawing for a Maurice Sendak 'Really Rosie' book. That's any library. Just Friday night. And it's any library card. It doesn't have to be Fort Smith."
And for the parents and grandparents in the crowd, Law said the musical numbers would feel familiar based on the well-known composer behind those numbers.
"Yes, Carol King partnered with Maurice Sendak. Back in the '70s is when all the music was written. And some of it is really reminiscent of Carol King. You can really tell that it was her. The one, 'Awful Truth' that you got the picture of right here with the red lighting, that you can really hear Carol King in that one. But there's all different styles of music, there's different types of songs, there's one for everybody. Everybody can enjoy and appreciate the different styles of music that there are."
Hartwig, who said she wants to grow up to become a Broadway performer, described the play as "an everyday childhood" as she made her pitch for the public to come out to the show.
"It's kind of like an everyday childhood," she said. "You just get musical theater and you get to hang out with your friends in the middle of it. Just talk and have conversations."
Performances of "Really Rosie" will take place at the ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith Thursday, July 24; Friday, July 25; and Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. nightly and run for an hour and a half. Saturday will also feature an early 3 p.m. performance. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online at the YAG website or at the ArcBest Performing Arts Center box office.