Willy Wonka Jr.
Posted 04/15/2016 04:55PM

5th graders delivery colorfully terrific production!

This year's 5th grade class took on the popularly delicious story of Willy Wonka, Jr., based on Roald Dahl's fantastical tale of Charlie Bucket's visit to Willy Wonka's mysterious chocolate factory. They brought great energy and talent to the stage for a wonderful performance, thrilling the rest of the Lower School, their parents and teachers.

Perhaps most proud was their teacher and play director Michelle Kelly, Lower and Middle School music teacher. We spoke with Ms. Kelly right after the production to get her reactions and learn more about what went into the show:

How did you decide on Willy Wonka, Jr?

After seeing how much candy we used for this year's Festival of Light, (the theme was "Holiday Sweets"!) I decided we should reuse as much of it as possible. Willy Wonka, Jr was the perfect choice!

How long have you and the students been preparing for the show?

We began preparing in January. We started with an initial read-through to learn about the characters and story. This helped students choose which parts they may wish to audition for. The casting was announced in February. Every student had a part, and some had multiple parts. Each of the two biggest parts—Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka—were split between two students, one per act.

Describe the enthusiasm and teamwork among the students as they prepared.

The students have been incredibly enthusiastic for this show since day one. They have been reciting each other's lines in regular conversation, singing the "burping" song after lunch, and could be heard singing all over campus during transitions. During their Valentine's Day class celebrations Mrs. Stowers (one of our 5th grade teachers) played the sing-along CD and students sang the whole time.

Even during our hours of rehearsals in the weeks prior to the show the kids always came with energy and excitement for the show and could be seen dancing to each other's songs on the sides of the stage. They discovered something new almost every day during rehearsals, which was so fun to see!

Students helped each other to learn their lines during class rehearsals, outside of school, during lunch... everywhere! I gave them the deadline of March 11th to learn their lines, and every single one of them had their lines memorized before that date.

So many students figured out their character's motives and improvised lines, actions, and inflections. Much of what they did on stage was not even in their script--they were really acting and creating! This can only come when they feel confident and comfortable in what they are doing.

Here's a fun story: Marko brought in a LOT of candy to help him "get into his character," Augustus Gloop. During one of the rehearsals he got on stage and we saw that he had smudged chocolate ALL over his face. Mrs. Stowers and I hadn't noticed him prepare this, so when he got on stage we couldn't stop laughing.

What challenges did the students face?

I think they all had to get over any kind of nervousness or stage fright. So much of rehearsing is done in front of your peers, which can be tough for anyone, especially a 5th grader! They had to be confident in their parts to be able to get up in front of everyone and do their best.

This helped them in their preview teaser performance during the All-School Assembly the day before the full production. I can't imagine being a 5th grader performing for a room filled with almost 800 people—mostly older students—but they all conquered any fears they had and gave it their all. They were terrific.

Who created the costumes and scenery?

Mrs. Stowers, Mrs. Houston (our other 5th grade teacher) and I came up with the ideas for the costumes. Mrs. Marcia Franklin (Middle School theater arts and tech director) helped to create most of the costumes and helped me figure out what would work on stage.

We also had some wonderful parent volunteers—Mrs. LaMotta, Mrs. Schumacher, and Mrs. Bonham—who made sure the kids looked great. I was so grateful for their help!

The 5th graders painted the sets during Mrs. Russell-Heymann's art classes and their art projects inspired a lot of the designs. The 8th Grade Theater Tech Minors created light boxes, chocolate scenery, candy trees and so much more during their class.

Did our older theater or art students help?

In addition to creating scenery, the 8th Grade Theater Tech Minors ran the show for us. They worked the sound, light boxes, and moved the set pieces for us. It was a great collaboration! The Upper School theater and theater tech kids helped get the set pieces completed. Everyone had a hand in painting, cutting, gluing or organizing something for this show.

Who else worked behind the scenes?

Mrs. Houston through all of the rehearsals was our expert stagehand. Mr. Gordon (Lower School technology coordinator) was backstage the entire time to move sets and find props that always seemed to go missing.

We always needed to make sure we had extra golden tickets available because they were easily misplaced! Mrs. Stowers worked the music and I worked the lights. The 8th graders took over the rest of the show for us. Mrs. Franklin and Mr. Brooks (Upper School theater tech coordinator) were involved from the very beginning and taught me how to use a lot of our sound and lighting equipment. They are the sound and lighting gurus and they made sure everything ran smoothly during the performance.

View a photo gallery of Willy Wonka Jr.