It may have felt like mid-January outside the JCA last week but inside Jenison Junior High theatre students were bringing the tropics home with their production of Disney’s, The Little Mermaid! Directed by Holly Florian, this was the second musical presented by the Junior High since the opening of the Jenison Center for the Arts last year.
For Ms. Florian, choosing this year’s show was an easy decision: “Coming off of Mulan last year there was a lot of positive feedback about Disney shows and we knew The Little Mermaid would be a good one to continue the excitement for the Junior High program and people recognizing that these kids can do great things too.” The 60 Junior High students were supported by High School theatre volunteers and elementary students who have auditioned to fill the smaller roles.
Arial was played by 8th grader, Ashley Hillson, who is growing up in a musical home singing alongside her mom who plays the piano. She loved “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid when she was little so she was excited to be awarded the lead role. She admits that it can be a challenge to balance her time between rehearsal, school and spending time with her family but she loves seeing the show come together.
Arial’s guardian is, of course, the precocious Sebastian played by theatre veteran, Zach Avery. Zach was excited to be part of a show that uses more complicated sets which includes a giant ship and dramatic backdrops. He got used to his giant claws by practicing with oven mits!
In the fall, close to 100 students came forward to audition to be part of the musical and Ms. Florian says that she would like to see the program continue to grow, include more students every year and provide opportunities to showcase the talent of the Junior High.
Ashley, Zach and Ms. Florian would also like to encourage any students who may be thinking about getting involved but finding themselves with cold feet. While auditions can seem intimidating the teachers help make it comfortable by breaking up the acting and singing portions and teachers give advice. “I feel strongly that at this point in their acting careers, for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve done this, they need some front-loading, they need some coaching.” [Ms Florian] The auditions are seen as an environment for learning about the characters possible actions and feelings and it’s exciting to see the students growth from that early starting point.
Ashley and Zach are both appreciative of the theatre training they are receiving at Jenison. “I feel like all the kids that are in the theatre program are inspired by their older peers, so a lot of the students are helping each other. There’s a lot of cooperation and friendship with the students.” Ashley adds, “I feel like we have something really extraordinary here.”
If you are a junior high student with an interest in learning about the theatre program or getting involved you can participate in Theatre Club that meets once a week starting in late February. Contact Ms. Florian and listen for an announcement for details.
Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of The Little Mermaid! All of our theatre students continue to make our entire community proud!