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Students perform Beauty and the Beast

MARYSVILLE — Shoultes Elementary staged two showings March 20 of its first school play in as long as many staff members could remember.

Nancy Hammer, a 13-year teacher at Shoultes Elementary who’s also served as a school librarian for the past couple of years, directed a version of “Beauty and the Beast” that had been specifically adapted for a large cast of young performers.

“We’re a small enough school that I’ve been able to teach art and drama as well,” Hammer said. “I realized, through conducting our readers’ theater, that we’ve got some really amazing talent at this school.”

Last year, Hammer began working toward making her dreams of a school play at Shoultes a reality. She began by looking for a play that would suit the needs of an elementary school cast.

“I love musicals,” Hammer said. “We had 34 kids try out and 34 kids got parts. This version of the play is written so that four different girls star as Beauty, and four different boys star as the Beast. Everyone on the cast gets to be a star.”

The cast ranged from third- through fifth-grade students, and Hammer praised the third-graders for being every bit as talented as their older counterparts. The cast’s rehearsals began in January and Hammer painted the sets herself.

“I don’t know long it took me to paint the backdrop,” Hammer said. “It was so much fun that I didn’t even care. Theater has become such a rare experience for kids that I wanted them to have it. School programs have become so academics-heavy that I don’t think there’s enough time for creative exploration.”

The students on the cast and choir showed off the results of their time spent rehearsing at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 20. The first show was for their peers, while the second was for their parents and families. Many of those parents and family members had joined school staff and community members in supporting the play, including by donating costumes and props.

As for the young cast themselves, the trio who sat down to be interviewed admitted that the experience was unfamiliar enough to make them a bit nervous, but they insisted that they’d had enough fun to want to do it again.

Styles Brooks is a fourth-grader who played “Beast No. 3,” and he was inspired to try acting by his family.

“I heard that my dad’s grandma had acted, so I decided that, because my dad died, I wanted to act too,” Brooks said. “The fun part about it was I got to make people laugh. I got nervous because there were a lot of people out there, and I didn’t like the feeling of my stomach turning inside out.”

Brooks advised other up-and-coming actors to combat this nervousness by “thinking of people in their underwear.”

Peyton Draper, a third-grader who played “Bruno,” shared Brooks’ apprehension about being in front of hundreds of people, but he adopted a relatively Stoic approach to his acting.

“Don’t worry about how many people are there, just worry about what you have to do,” Draper, a first-time actor himself, counseled younger actors. “It was just fun all around. I can’t decide what the funnest (sic) part was.”

Ahnna McCoy, a fifth-grader who played “Beauty No. 4,” hadn’t expected to feel so jittery, since she’d seen her stepsister in a play, “and my stepsister didn’t look nervous. I really didn’t want to mess up my lines.”

McCoy nonetheless concluded the play feeling happy that she’d done it, and encouraged her peers to give acting a try.

“Just worry about yourself, and have the words rolling in your head as you remember them,” McCoy said.

“I am so proud I cannot even tell you,” Hammer said. “It’s not often that people can say that they work in jobs that they absolutely love, but I do.”

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