Amherst Middle School Theater Club to present ‘My Son Pinocchio, Jr.’

AMHERST – Amherst Middle School’s Theater Club celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a rollicking production of “My Son Pinocchio, Jr.”

“There is this crazy, special energy when everyone is doing their thing on-stage and back stage, like a three-ring circus times 10,” said AMS Theater Club Producer Denise Jacobs. “I love being in the middle of all of that, helping where I can and watching it all hum along.”

Ten years ago, if kids in Amherst were interested in being a part of a theatrical production, the closest opportunities at the time were in Manchester or Nashua. A devoted leadership team of concerned adults stepped in to form the Amherst Middle School Theater Club, where students from grades 5-8 can experience the fun and creativity of live theater. Director/Choreographer Jennifer Stover has been with the club from its founding.

“We established a dedication to this club, which I believe was the result of a true passion for theater and the desire to foster its opportunities,” Stover said.

The club grew and expanded over the decade to its current level of around 120 kids each year. “Our policy is to find a place for everyone,” Jacobs said. “If there isn’t a spot in the cast, we make sure to involve them in a crew.”

A typical cast size is 65, the maximum that can fit on stage, and there are several “crews” to choose from. Talented painter? Try set design. Love to do hair and makeup? There’s a crew for that. Interested in technology? Lights and sound. There are many other ways to go as well, from photojournalism to publicity to the concession stand.

“This club promotes friendships between 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds and everyone in between,” Stover said.

Each crew enjoys a mix of ages, and is led by at least one or two parent volunteers, so there is the opportunity for parents to get involved as well. Walk down the hall at AMS during a Tuesday/Thursday rehearsal, and you’ll experience a busy, lively hive of kids who all know their jobs and places. They work with paintbrushes, cameras, computers, costumes and more. They are dancing, singing and rehearsing. It is a well-oiled machine.

Stover, Jacobs and Music Director Kim Whitehead, comprising the Directing Team, bring a higher level of professionalism than many middle school productions enjoy.

“Practice, practice, practice!” Jacobs exclaimed. “No one on our production staff ever says, ‘Oh well, it’s good enough for a middle school show.’ Everyone involved is always striving to make it the best it can be. And our students are amazingly good at what they do.”

This year’s production, “My Son Pinocchio, Jr.” proves to be no exception. Legendary composer Stephen Schwartz, who has written hit musicals, such as “Wicked” and “Godspell,” adds a fresh lineup of new music and lyrics along with old favorites. Schwartz has said that the show “is entertaining while at the same time dealing with such important themes as individuality, self-esteem and the relation of parents and children.”

Every production brings a new set of joys and challenges, and this year, the directing team is paying extra attention to stagecraft.

“How do you show the inside of a whale?” Jacobs asked. “As a period piece, we needed to dress about 55 actors as 19th century villagers – not to mention additional costumes for fairies, marionettes, animals, perfect children and delinquents. And then there is the small matter of a nose that grows and a puppet that turns into a boy – both on-stage. It is a staggering task.”

With great attention to detail, Stover and Jacobs, with Whitehead on the piano directing the music, will find creative solutions and take “My Son Pinocchio, Jr.” to unexpected places.

“Something that is completely great this year is the amount of comedy in this show,” Stover said. “And the complete faith I have in our actors to bring out all the little nuances that will entertain the students and the adults in the audience.”

For the past 10 years, the AMS Theater Club has brought the community such great productions as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “High School Musical” and “Dear Edwina.” Stover has her eyes on the future.

“My wish is that Theater Club will continue on. It is a unique program, offering a place for everyone and a chance for parents to continue to work alongside their children in roles both on crews and cast,” she said.

Tickets on sale now at the AMS Main Office, the Black Forest Café and The Homestead. The production runs at Amherst Middle School at 7 p.m. March 13-15, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, March 15. Tickets are still only $5.

Kim Kirk is a parent of a student involved with the production and a volunteer for the Amherst Middle School Theater Club.