Beaufort News

Beaufort Children's Theatre's 'Peter Pan' to feature -- count them -- 85 kids

Young members of the large cast warm up with some dramatic exercises during rehearsal for Peter Pan at the USCB Center for Performing Arts on Thursday.
Young members of the large cast warm up with some dramatic exercises during rehearsal for Peter Pan at the USCB Center for Performing Arts on Thursday. jkarr@islandpacket.com

It was the proverbial calm before the storm.

One minute, there was a relatively empty auditorium.

The next?

Dozens upon dozens of laughing, shouting, dancing, jumping and wiggling -- yes, wiggling -- children werel pouring through the doors of the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts at once.

They were there for a Thursday night rehearsal of the center's latest production -- "Peter Pan Jr." -- set to open at the center this week. And everywhere one looked there were children.

Excited children.

In fact, the Disney-branded production will include more than 80 kids. And no that's not a typo.

The full cast -- including pirates, Lost Boys and mermaids, among other characters -- will feature some 85 children, ranging in ages from 6 to 18.

How on earth does one manage that many kids? Kids who are normally full of energy, by the way.

"We call it organized chaos," said director Anna Schaffer laughing.

With a big magnetic smile and calm, open demeanor, Schaffer seems the perfect person to whip that chaos into shape.

But really, how does she do it?

"I'm only one piece of the puzzle," she said Thursday night as she tended to some props on stage.

That puzzle also includes 13 adults in various roles from musical director to costume director and choreographer.

Together, Schaffer said, they help supervise and manage the seemingly endless flow of children who were then divided into groups based on their role.

The young actors then attended anywhere from one to three workshop-styled rehearsals per week, for roughly eight weeks, as part of the Beaufort Children's Theatre production. The children's theater is part of the Center for the Arts community theatre group.

It's all designed to prepare them for the upcoming performances. But the rehearsals are also meant to provide real-time theater instruction.

"With this large of a cast, we wanted to them to be learning something as well," said Schaffer, who teaches musical theater, voice and piano lessons when not directing.

And the adults have discovered a thing or two as well.

"You learn a lot through observation," she said. "You have leaders leading and followers following, which is great because sometimes you really need followers."

Fourteen-year-old Campbell Dukes was definitely not one of the followers following.

As Peter Pan and the unofficial leader of the "Lost Boys," Dukes was trying her best to get younger members to focus during a series of warm up exercises Thursday night.

"It certainly can be chaotic," she said as she struggled to tuck her long, red hair beneath a pixie-cut wig earlier in the evening. "Especially when all the kids are up there."

Already a community theater veteran, Dukes started performing as part of the children's theater program at age 9 and has been in several of the area's professional plays as well.

It's something she loves doing.

"You know I think it's just being up there and seeing everyone in the audience," she said. "I just love being up there."

For Akasha Nelson, who plays Wendy, theater is something to build on.

"I like it a lot," she said, standing just off stage Thursday night. "It's something I've stuck with for a long time."

Playing the part of an almost-grown character in a sea of young actors, has been interesting, she said, particularly since Nelson, 16, will be heading off to college in a couple of years.

"You get to see her grow up," she said, sounding a little wistful about her character. "And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's something that happens to everyone."

By the numbers

85: Children in the cast

~150: Number who auditioned

56: Number of girls

29: Number of boys

16: Area schools represented

6 to 18: Age ranges

13: Adults overseeing/ managing the full cast

5: Number of performances, including two school shows

If you go

The Beaufort Children's Theatre Company will perform Peter Pan Jr. beginning this week, at 805 Carteret St., Beaufort.

School performances are at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 19.

Show times for the general public are at 7 p.m. Friday Nov. 20 and Saturday Nov. 21, and 3 p.m. Sunday Nov. 22.

Tickets are $15-$25 with discounts for students.

For details or tickets, call 843-521-4145 or visit www.uscbcenterforthearts.com.

Tickets may also be purchased at the center's box office, at 805 Carteret St., Beaufort.

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.

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