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The City Journals

Olympus Jr. High’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Celebrates a Classic Love Story

Apr 07, 2016 12:48PM ● By Stephanie Lauritzen

By Stephanie Lauritzen | [email protected]

Cottonwood - Holladay - Imagine working with 120 teenagers to build a fairy-tale kingdom from scratch. Together, you create a light and sound system, build a castle, and somehow teach each participant to sing and dance on cue. For the average person, it may seem impossible. But for Olympus Junior High’s drama and theater teacher Zeke Totland, this is just another day at work. On March 9–14, the Bulldog Theater Company performed its production of “Beauty and the Beast”, turning the school stage and auditorium into a magical world of romance, song and happy endings. 

Totland began his career at Olympus Jr. five years ago after teaching in both San Francisco and Australia. While he loves teaching all of his subjects, including drama, stage crew, English and yearbook, he maintains a special affection for his drama classes. 

“Drama is such a great avenue for helping students to gain a sense of confidence and self-efficacy,” Totland said. “I would say it is the class where kids playfully grow up.” 

For his spring production, Totland felt drawn to “Beauty and the Beast” for several reasons, especially for the message it sends his students and the audience. 

“‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been my favorite Disney film since it was nominated for best picture in 1998,” he said. “The music and story are amazing. The messages of courage, bravery, and acceptance are big part of the principles I try to instill in my students. Students love all the characters they can play and the music. Audiences love the visual splendor, action and the story of love conquers all.” 

While running a middle school theater company comes with certain challenges, such as not seeing his family much from November to March, Totland loves developing 11- and 12-year-olds in the art forms of singing, acting and movement, while hoping they listen and will work together. Totland feels lucky that his leading actors, the two students playing Belle, as well as the student playing the Beast, bring such unique talent to the play.

“Both of our Belles (Emmy McBride and Sydney Wardle) bring so much to the roles,” Totland said. “They both are amazing singers and actors. Yet, they have unique and very different types of Belles they have developed. Our Beast (Kage Hugart) is a raw talent. His brilliant singing voice catapulted him to the front of the list when auditioning. He is just beginning to tap his potential as an actor.” 

But Totland is quick to recognize that not all stars are seen on stage. 

“Our stage crew is dedicated and hard working,” he said.“They spend hours after school, on Saturdays and as well as early each morning designing, painting, building and running this show. There is no show without this group of talented and devoted students.”

Overall, Totland feels grateful to provide his students a “chance to discover themselves through creative exploration.” He believes the arts, and specifically drama, provide students the “opportunity to safely take important emotional risks that strengthen their character in life, not just in the given projects.”

While the students resumed their normal lives after March 14, Totland hopes they learned more than just their lines, or how to build a set. 

“The ability for students to learn and enjoy working together is the ultimate reward gained in drama and all performing arts,” he said. “Our musical brings together dancers, actors, singers, musicians, technical artists (painters, sound, light, special effect, makeup, costume) in such a way that we must work together effectively and quickly to bring something special to life. I’ve had students tell me that this type of work was the most valuable as they moved through their educational careers.”