Two weeks from now, local actors will take flight on the STMA Performing Arts Center’s stage for the first time in school history. SOAR Regional Arts’ production of Mary Poppins Jr., featuring students from first through 8th grade, runs from February 25-27, and select cast members will undergo training to fly during the show.
The SOAR community theater group is now in its 10th season, with its first production, Willy Wonka, taking place in 2012. Mary Poppins Jr. is considered an Academy Production, which are more immersive, learning-focused theater experiences open to kids in grades 1-8. SOAR co-founder Ellen Beaudry said SOAR enhances the Academy theater experience with educational components and philanthropic elements beyond what most local youth theater groups provide. Besides learning lines, participants learn about the technical aspects of putting on a production, such as staging, and the themes and subject matter involved in the show.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to really have an immersive experience,” she said.
Rehearsals have been running strong since December auditions for the cast of 92. Most cast members rehearse 6 hours per week, with additional time for leads.
The production’s lead, 7th grader Bella Dimitroff, said she was in disbelief to find out she’d been cast as Mary Poppins in December. Her dad woke her up with the news and recorded her excited reaction. She said her favorite song of the show is “Practically Perfect,” which is her first song of the show, and she’s especially excited to fly onstage.
Another lead, 7th grader Aleyna Amaro, plays Jane, and she got interested in auditioning when a friend convinced her to try it together. This is her first SOAR production, and she was surprised to land a leading role.
“It’s been an awesome experience, and I’m very lucky to have gotten this role with a ton of other talented people who could have gotten it,” she said. “If you like Mary Poppins, or if you’ve never seen it before, you should totally go.”
While volunteers staff most leadership positions and the board, SOAR does hire a professional stage director, music director, and choreographer for its productions, which Beaudry said gives kids an opportunity to work with people who are refined and specialized in their areas of expertise.
“Because it’s our 10-year anniversary season, we wanted to choose things that are really special,” Beaudry said. “This will be the first time that the fly system at the PAC will be used to fly people.”
Beaudry said the PAC’s fly system is often used to fly set pieces in and out pretty frequently, but not yet actors. SOAR hired a professional flight company to train staff and students on using the equipment. In addition, local teenage theater enthusiasts will be able to learn from the flight company while they’re here, with a workshop opportunity teaching behind-the-scenes, technical aspects of theater. A grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board allowed them to fund the flight opportunity.
“We started [SOAR] because we wanted to make our community a great place to live, and to provide opportunities not only for our own kids but for neighbors, friends, and other families that live in the area,” Beaudry said. “We do it because we love it, and it’s our passion.”
Mary Poppins Jr. runs February 25-27 at the STMA High School’s Performing Arts Center. The five shows will include opening night Friday evening, two on Saturday, and two on Sunday. Tickets are available at soararts.com.