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The City Journals

Hillside Middle wants to be ‘part of your world’ with ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’

Jan 29, 2019 04:31PM ● By Travis Barton

Students work on their dance moves for “Under the Sea” during a rehearsal for “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at Hillside Middle School. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

For six days in February, Hillside Middle School is going under the sea. 

Director Nate Holcomb will lead almost 200 students as they bring to life “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at 7 p.m. on Feb. 20-25 with a matinee performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. All shows will run at Hillside Middle’s auditorium (1825 East Nevada Street). Tickets are available online at hillsidelittlermermaid.com.  

After months and months of preparation, Holcomb is excited for the community and kids’ parents to see the show. “It’s just so much fun to watch parents watch their kids be happy,” said Holcomb, overseeing his fifth production at the school. 

Based on the famous Disney film and successful Broadway musical about a mermaid who dreams of joining the world above her to find love, it’s a show Holcomb, referred to as “Mr. Nate” by his students, has longed to stage. This year, he said, felt right. 

Long before auditions in October and full cast rehearsals in December, Holcomb begins preparing by organizing scripts, reading and editing music, creating sponsorship and audition forms, and building a website.  

He creates two contracts for the kids to sign, one for the musical stating expectations for kids and parents. The other for rehearsal behavior.  

“It's a whole ordeal of paperwork and that takes a while,” he said. 

Holcomb also puts together a production team—or “board of directors” as he calls them—comprised of volunteer parents and school staff each placed in charge of departments such as costumes, concessions and a silent auction. After each rehearsal, reports are sent to each member of the team letting others know what needs to be done.  

“I ask a lot and they do amazing stuff for me and I am so, so happy that they help,” Holcomb said. “When you have 5,000 costume pieces you have to deal with for one show, I can't do that.” 

But if you think Holcomb is a strict, overbearing dictator, think again. The Wichita, Kansas native begins each rehearsal with students dancing to “Footloose” to warm up. He brings in former students to help and consistently jokes with students to keep the experience fun.  

School staff said its Holcomb’s magnetic personality that draws such a large portion of students to the musical.

Middle school, Holcomb said, can be an awkward time, “so to watch (students) having a good time, to hear them having a good time—a good experience in middle school—that brings me a lot of joy.” 

“When you have 200 kids doing the exact same weird thing, nobody cares,” Holcomb said. 

It’s something the former music education major and now drama teacher values about theatre. It provides a safe haven for all students. 

“For me, (theatre) is still a hobby,” Holcomb said. “But for teaching it, it’s just the lack of apprehension when it comes to letting your freak flag fly.”

Kids are required to have at least a 2.0 GPA to participate, helping motivate students for other classes. 

“They want to keep their GPA up to be in the show, so they can show their parents something they're proud of, which is gorgeous,” Holcomb said.  

Holcomb was also quick to sing the praises of the community, having received lots of donations from local businesses. 

It’s taken Holcomb and a whole team behind him to bring these school productions together. “The Little Mermaid Jr.” will have eight performances over six days, kids will be exhausted, but it’s all worth it, Holcomb said.  

“When the time comes around, it’s something that they're extremely proud of. You can just see it on their faces, they're so happy.”