Sandy Arts Guild following trend of children’s theater with ‘Mary Poppins, Jr.
May 02, 2019 02:53PM
By Heather Lawrence
Director Stephanie Chatterton, actors Ethan Smith and Bex Millington, and musical director Eric Richards of “Mary Poppins, Jr.” take their theater seriously. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
The Sandy Arts Guild took a gamble recently that kids in Sandy loved theater. And the gamble paid off. “Mary Poppins, Jr.” played in Sandy at the Theater at Mount Jordan from April 24 to 27. Over 100 child actors auditioned for the show, which follows a trend of “junior” productions written specifically for casts made up completely of kids.
Stephanie Chatterton directed Mary Poppins, Jr. noting the high turnout. “We had over 100 child actors between the ages of 10 and 18 audition. And there were only enough parts for 55 kids. The competition was stiff,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton has directed other shows around the valley, including those in the “junior” genre. “These are productions made specifically with younger casts and audiences in mind. They are cut for time and content, and they are intended to be played with a cast of kids,” said Chatterton.
Standards for the show were high. “Sometimes the age limit starts at 8, but this show’s music and dancing are too complex, so we started at 10. We taught everyone to tap. We hired a dialect coach. People are going to be pleasantly surprised at the quality of this production,” Chatterton said.
Chatterton’s music director is vocal coach Eric Richards, whose roots are in Sandy. “Every show we choose a theme. For this show it was ‘The Power of One.’ Mary Poppins is really this one person who comes in and changes everything. We asked each cast member to think of a person in their life who has influenced them for good. It gave more meaning to the whole thing,” Richards said.
At the top of the age range in Sandy’s show were Ethan Smith and Bex Millington, the “veteran” high school actors playing Bert and Mary. Smith said he’s always liked performing. “I was in ‘The Lion King, Jr.’ in middle school. Then I just kept auditioning for more and more stuff.”
Millington, who is a senior at Bingham High, said her mom was the one who got her into theater at a young age. “I started acting when I was 5. I’ve been doing one or two shows every year. I’ve done school shows, and I’ve been doing Sandy shows since I was about 13.”
The community shows present an opportunity to perform outside of school productions, but also require the students to make some hard choices. “My school does two shows a year. The way the schedule works, I can do the fall show at my high school, but for spring semester I have to choose between doing the school show or the Sandy show,” Millington said.
Smith said he gets to meet new people doing community shows. “I don’t know anyone here, where at school I know everyone, so it’s a good opportunity to make new friends. Working with younger kids is really different. It’s fun, but sometimes they are rowdy and misbehave,” Smith said.
Millington enjoys learning different approaches to theater. “At Bingham they’re very intense with their theater program. Coming here is still a very professional environment, but it’s a different approach. It’s interesting to see that two different theaters can still achieve the same level of professionalism in different ways,” said Millington.
Smith said people should look forward to his song “Jolly Holiday.” “People should be excited to come see me in that one. It’s Bert’s song, and he leaves and then comes back in this really awesome costume,” Smith said.
Smith also related to the theme chosen by Richards, which made him think about a friend of his. “When I was in middle school I wasn’t making the best choices or spending time with the best friends. Ryan invited me to sit with him, and finally I did and I started making better choices,” Smith said.
Millington was excited about learning a new skill for the show: flying. “At cast meeting they announced they’d make me fly and I was so scared. I wear a harness and it’s really uncomfortable, but I’m so excited. It’s a strange opportunity that I’ve never had before. I hope people come to see me fly!” Millington said.
Millington sees the draw for doing a junior show. “Working with kids helps you build up your patience, and it’s also fun. You can’t do a show like this in high school with high school students playing little kids.”
With junior shows coming up at Copperview, Hale Center Theatre Orem and the University of Utah, this is a trend that’s here to stay.