There are a lot of talented young people in Regina. Some of the most talented will be on stage this week and next, as Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre Inc. presents two musicals, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Alice in Wonderland.
Do It With Class, now in its seventh season, began with just 10 young people between the ages of 10 and 13. Now, artistic director Andorlie Hillstrom says, close to 100 kids are involved, divided into senior and junior musical theatre and dance companies.
Musical theatre auditions are held in June and dance auditions in September of each year. Performances are held throughout the year–Do It With Class kids have performed for everything from conventions to schools to Roughrider half-time shows–but the main thrust of the year’s work is the two spring musicals, one put on by the junior company and one by the senior company, and the spring dance recitals, coming up in May.
The emphasis in Do It With Class is on creating well-rounded performers. All the musical theatre company members take dance and musical theatre classes on a weekly basis. Andorlie and Robert Ursan teach musical theatre; Ana Maria de Campos is the artistic director of the dance company.
Rob and Andorlie choose the spring productions between them. One of their main concerns is finding a show with enough roles; the junior company alone typically has 20 members, and this year has 28. In addition, Andorlie says, “We try to choose material that we feel is appropriate to them,” that is, material that reflects the interests and concerns of young people. At the same time, she emphasizes, when choosing shows for the senior company, they don’t back away from “adult” material, or material that might be considered “politically incorrect.” Remarkably, they’ve had no complaints.
“The parents trust us,” Andorlie says. “They trust that we’ll be respectful with their kids.” And the young people themselves love the opportunity to deal with adult material, she adds. “They’re intelligent, they’re articulate–and if we don’t challenge them, they’ll be bored.”
Recent shows performed by the senior company have included West Side Story, Pippin (about a young man trying to find himself), and City of Angels (a challenging show for the young actors, because it required them to take adult roles–not to mention sing jazz–but a show that included a lot of themes they understood, Andorlie says).
On a more practical level, Andorlie says, they try to pick shows that are appropriate to the voices they have in the company. “We work with these kids regularly, so we know their voices,” she says.
For the senior company, this year’s choice was Two Gentlemen of Verona, a rock musical version of Shakespeare’s play that combines Elizabethan dialog and rock and roll. It’s set in the 1970s–which was a blast for the parents who helped with the costuming, Andorlie says. “They spent hours telling each other about what they used to wear!”
Of course, there’s another way to come up with a show that’s appropriate to a specific group of young performers: write it yourself. That’s what Robert Ursan has done three times. First, he adapted his short opera The Snow Queen, originally written for Prairie Opera’s school touring program, for Do It With Class; then, two years ago, he turned the classic children’s book The Little Prince into a musical; this year, he’s done the same with Alice in Wonderland.
Why choose Alice? “My first criteria was a story that had lots of characters,” Rob says, but after settling on Alice, he had to discover his own way of telling the story. It went through several versions. “The idea was not to do the same old version of Alice in Wonderland,” Rob
says, “so I started superimposing outside ideas.”
The result is a version of Alice that begins in a schoolyard with a girl reading Alice in Wonderland. She gets teased and mistreated–until the White Rabbit shows, grabs all the various types of kids in the school (the nerds, the rough-housers, etc.), and makes them into characters in the Alice story. The goal, Rob says, is to highlight parallels between the outside world and the world of the book.
Alice has been choreographed by Ana Maria de Campos, and, says Andorlie, “The work is spectacular for children of this age.”
But spectacular work from their charges is something Andorlie and Rob have come to expect. “Every time we do a show, I think, ‘That was too easy,'” Rob says.
Andorlie agrees. “These kids are so flexible, they’re willing to take risks, try new things,” she says. “They’re so positive, so enthusiastic, so full of joie de vivre–they’re so excited to be alive.” She smiles. “It keeps me going.”