Every year, kids from around the area get their chance at being a part of a massive theatrical production when they join Creative Arts Productions’ summer camp.
A mixture of glee and stress, the boot camp turns stage hopefuls into actors and crew members, leading the charge in an onstage musical for two performances.
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Helping tamp down any of those onstage nerves, director Vance Baldwin said everyone works hard to establish a skill set that will help them in the future.
“I think for the teens and myself and the crew, it’s always stressful,” he said. “We get to learn how to deal with our frustration just as much as (the cast) will and help them cope in a way that’s going to make them successful.”
For its 2019 production, Baldwin will be transporting the kids to the North Pole and New York City, as they perform “Elf The Musical Jr.” at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 27, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at the Missouri Theater, 717 Edmond St.
Based on the hit Will Ferrell comedy, the musical follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity. Traveling from the Santa’s Home to The Big Apple, he finds his real family, falls in love and tries to gather up enough cheer to save Christmas. Adding to the fun, the production also includes joyful songs and dance numbers like “Sparkjollytwinklegjingley” and “There is Santa Claus.”
For lead actor Calvin Kress, who plays Buddy, it was a daunting task unlike any he has faced before.
“Buddy’s in every scene except for one,” Baldwin said.
That means a lot of memorizing lines, as well as practicing songs and dances.
“I think he had 180 lines to memorize, where most people had under 40. So it’s been harder for him in that regard. But watching him develop the quirkiness of his character, it’s been really fascinating,” Baldwin said.
One of the big challenges Baldwin said the production faced, when compared to past shows like “Shrek Jr. The Musical” and “Aladdin Jr.,” was the multi-tiered stage and transitional scenes, where a screen will drop down to let the production continue while the crew moves giant props in the background.
“I think for the tech work and stage crew, props have been a big factor because they’re bigger than normal,” Baldwin said.
While actors like Kress and Skylar Kline, who also headlined 2018’s “Shrek Jr. The Musical,” have experience starring in CAP productions, Baldwin said there’s a lot of new blood, which means more work building them up and establishing their voices.
“Vocally, it’s tough because we don’t have a lot of older kids who have strong voices. We have a lot of mid teens who are transitioning into that right now, so their voices are changing,” Baldwin said.
Whatever work is required to strengthen the cast’s singing voices, there’s less needed when it comes to their charisma on the stage.
“The acting is on point. They’re fierce actors and they’re incredible,” Baldwin said.
During a Tuesday rehearsal, Baldwin saw that kids were struggling, missing cues and having trouble getting in sync. At the end of the day, he gathered them to say that this is part of the process and to not worry.
“Having them go through the fear factor of today and knowing ‘Tomorrow, I have to be a little more on my game.’ It’ll prepare them a little bit more for the actual run,” he said.
Does that take any pressure off of Baldwin? Of course not.
“As a director, there’s always going to be different challenges. It is stressful. It’s always stressful for me,” he said.
The end result, a bunch of kids expressing themselves to an audience onstage, is always worth the frayed nerves and anxiety.
“Our goal in the community is to hopefully build artists that carry the tools needed for theater into their personal lives,” he said. “For kids to have this level of a show early on sets a standard for our community, but also for their lives.”
Advanced tickets will be available for $10 until tonight, and can be purchased from any cast member or online at capstjoemo.org/online-store. Tickets may also be purchased at the door for $12. For more information visit capstjoemo.org.
Edit: A previous version of this story incorrectly credited the actor laying Buddy The Elf. He is played by Calvin Kress.