Bringing life to theater: Kids’ troupe readies for play

ANNETTE UTZ| Special to the Statesman Journal

By Justin Much
Statesman Journal

The weather was cooperating with sun-tempering clouds but no rain Saturday, June 24 as young thespians showed up near Knox and Powell streets in Monmouth, appearing energetic and prepared.

Their enthusiastic arrival was good news for the directors, organizers and volunteer parents who also gathered outside Rice Auditorium on the Western Oregon University campus, tasked with corralling 28 kids into an acting machine for a short six-week period. Point people on the summer project are Luckiamute Valley Charter School teacher Rob Harriman and Rev. Lise Adams Sherry, co-directors in this quest by the Mid-Valley Community Children’s Theater (MVCCT).

“This is our first organized rehearsal with the full cast – 28 kids,” Harriman said briefly, as his attentions migrated to the multiple duties at hand. The kids have been rehearsing since June 3 to perform “The Magic Flute” by Steven Fogell on July 14.

It is a production designed to engage. Kids’ ages range from a couple of kindergarteners through seventh grade. Every one of the actors will have a line in the play, according to Barbara Harrington, Rob’s wife and a key organizer. She stressed that drama opportunities normally are more available as kids mature toward middle and high school, but this theater affords an introductory opportunity for the younger kids as well.

In an age where even traditional summer activities such as swimming, softball struggle in some municipalities, theater is a unique privilege in Monmouth and Independence; participants hail from every elementary school in the two towns.

The troupe received a boost this year with a $1,500 grant from the Polk County Cultural Commission. Other funds come via the Monmouth-Independence Community Arts Association (MICAA) through the Don Weiss Memorial Children’s Theater Fund.

“The university gives us this stage to use because of the relationship with Weiss,” Barbara Harriman said.

Although this particular chapter of the theater is only in its second year, co-directors Harriman and Sherry have long participated in the kid-actor side of the theater’s legacy. When the late Weiss, a former WOU humanities professor, informally organized kids back in the 1970s and ‘80s, the current theater directors were a part of those productions at one time or another.

Now they are happy to be instrumental in restoring the opportunity that Weiss began from his Sacre Lane backyard decades ago. Sherry is doubly charged with enthusiasm since her father, the late Allen Adams, was also a WOU professor involved with theater arts.

Their efforts have been well received.

“The majority of the kids who were involved last year are involved this year,” Barbara Harriman said. “We also have great support from a core group of parents.”

She noted that with added funding and popularity, MVCCT is actually growing. A year ago they had to borrow props and other essentials. This year, they are able to make costumes, add a sound system and a few new novelties, such as puppeteer bits provided through the skills of Independence Downtown Association coordinator Emily Wilken, a local AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.

But the kids’ community theater will always harbor the down-home character it did when Weiss gathered kids in the 1970s and introduced them to Shakespeare at an early age.

“We are kind of a farm team,” Harriman said.

“We are always going to be grass-roots,” she added, “even though we are not starting in our backyard.”

jmuch@statesmanjournal.com or (503) 399-6736 or follow at twitter.com/justinmuch

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