23 Apr 2016
Favorite tales get turned around
“Storyville,” the fourth installment from WilleyWorld Community Productions’ Starved Rock Country Children’s Learning Theatre, will be performing your family’s favorite childhood fairytales and fables — with a twist.
“’Storyville’ is a fun, funny and fast-paced look at some of your favorite fairy tales and fables,” says Walt Willey, producer and director of “Storyville.” Several classic stories are presented in the one-act play, alongside added characters and general, positive learning lessons such as “you are never too small to help” or “beauty is on the inside.”
Willey believes the story’s themes are “universal enough that you can depart from them and do kind of a whole new thing.
“This play is about patterns and repetition,” says Willey. “There’s some basic, good moral lessons here, but in a fun way.”
The 16 student actors will be playing roughly 50 characters, ranging from the Gingerbread Man to the Boy with the Bad Breath.
“Storyville” is a play that almost was not. According to Willey, the Learning Theatre was preparing to do “Charlotte’s Web.” Soon after the play was chosen, the production rights for “Charlotte’s Web” were restricted, causing Willey to scramble to find a new play.
“I read, I guess, about another 20 plays and I thought this was a lot of fun,” says Willey, while discussing why he chose “Storyville.” “There’s audience participation as well, the Gingerbread Man is going to run out into the audience and (the kids) are all going to chase after him.”
Willey also liked the similarities in acting styles between “Charlotte’s Web” and “Storyville.”
“We were doing a lot of animal exercises and personification on animals — kids bringing human traits onto animals,” adds Willey. “I didn’t want to see that going to waste.”
According to Willey, most of the children in the Learning Theatre have been taking part in his lessons since the program’s opening in the fall of 2014.
“Because it is a learning theater, it’s not just rehearing and doing a show,” says Willey.
“We do classes, before we even pick a play, before we start rehearsing we have several classes. Most of these kids have been with me all four times, so if there’s anybody new we get them up to speed really quickly and then we all move ahead as a group.”
Willey believes it is important to have a general understanding of the children’s acting skills and personalities in order to find a play with a positive fit for the group.
The group has been rehearsing three times a week at both the Ottawa Dance Academy and the 807 Building, with each session lasting roughly two hours. Willey, alongside his assistant Devon Ford, has been impressed with the progress his students have made over the past two months of rehearsal.
“This time, the kids knew their lines so early that we were able to do the fine tuning,” says Willey. “It’s the difference between being really funny, kind of funny or not funny at all.” Willey, a strong believer in building acting techniques, began his group with the basics. He then adds layers of technique to each lesson.
The most important lesson in theatre: have an honest reaction to the script.
“They learn that acting is just reacting, and if you’re present in that moment and just reacting honestly, you don’t have to act,” says Willey.
Willey and his students have also noticed the several social benefits gained from the Children’s Learning Theatre.
“It’s helped me not be afraid to audition and to make friends in different places,” says Casey Dose, 10, who has been in all four of the company’s plays.
“It helped me not to be shy for other auditions,” states Abby Mascal, 10, who also does Community Theater in her hometown Streator.
During the Learning Theatre’s last production, “The Monsters Under The Bed,” Willey chose to have the children do two performances instead of just one.
“These kids worked so hard and after one show it was over,” states Willey. “We’ve had great audiences, people have been so supportive. Every time I say this is our best show yet, and it has been.”
The theater group will begin rehearsal for its next play in late October.
- "STORYVILLE," a Starved Rock Country Children’s Learning Theatre production, will be staged in the 807 Building Performance Space, 807 La Salle St., Ottawa.
- PERFORMANCES will begin 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1.
- TICKETS will be $10 either at the door or in advance from waltwilleyworld.com.