By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
Before a curious audience of elementary age students, actors from Laguna Beach’s middle school put on a costumed preview of their upcoming show this week.
“Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” draws its curtains for the first time Friday, Feb. 1 at 4 and 7 p.m. at Thurston Middle School’s Black Box Theater. The show is put on by and with two full casts culled from the eighth-grade drama classes at the school. Thirty students act in each production as they alternate time slots across two weeks of performances.
“We’ve grown in popularity over the years,” director Mark Dressler says, referring to the 60 total students he has guided through rehearsals during and after school hours. Since before they were in eighth grade, he says, “They have been looking forward to being part of a play.”
Though different from a similar play put on by the high school in 2007, “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” is highly stylized, which means there are grand uses of makeup and costuming. The play is based on the Disney film. As it is a musical, the actors and stage hands will have to work in synch with a backing track of recorded music.
The staging in the Black Box Theatre “is more intimate than the high school stage,” Dressler points out. The contrast makes the Thurston production a more condensed effort, whereas the Artists’ Theatre staging managed “flying” set pieces into place. Black Box is smaller, so it presented its own logistical challenges. Many of the actors lend a hand as crewmembers.
“They have to coordinate movements of the stage,” Dressler says. “They’ve learned that most of the production takes place where the audience can’t see.”
Dressler reiterates that a middle school production instills good habits and educates students about the teamwork needed to put a show together.
“They’re learning how to collaborate as an artistic group and the importance of cooperation. They’re learning that props and costumes need to be organized and they’re getting into that habit. Good habits and skills carry over once they’re in high school.”
Indeed, Dressler notes the shows serve as a farm system cultivating talent in middle school. He predicts that in the high school’s upcoming production of “Hello Dolly,” nearly the entire cast will have participated in their own eighth grade musicals.
“I think the community will be astounded when they see it,” Dressler remarks about the burgeoning talent. “They won’t believe these are only eighth-graders.”
Tickets can be purchased at the door: $10 for students; $15 for adults. Show times: Feb. 1, 2, 8 & 9 at 4 p.m. and 7p.m.; Feb. 6 and 7 at 4 p.m.
Cast pictures: https://www.facebook.com/ThurstonsBeautyAndTheBeast
Photos by Ann Goddard