Donna Reed Foundation Summer Musical Theatre

Laurel Olsen teaches workshop students the dance moves to the Oompa Loompa song. The workshop has 52 students this summer. Photo by Dan Mundt

“If you like theater, I think the most joyful form is when you get to see kids on stage having a lot of fun doing what they’re doing,” said Laurel Olsen, director of the summer musical theatre workshop production of “Willy Wonka Kids.”

The workshop, which is for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade, is sponsored by the Donna Reed Foundation.

Olsen is a language arts instructor at Denison High School (DHS) and has directed plays at the school and for the foundation during the last 16 years.

Her challenge with the musical theatre workshop is to bring everything together in just five days of rehearsal for a production on Saturday.

Prior to the first rehearsal on Monday morning, Olsen went through the script many times, made up all the choreography for the songs and then practiced everything so she could teach the moves without having to refer to her notes.

She also familiarized herself with all the music and the various cues that will take place during the show.

Her production team has about a dozen high school students and adults. She recruited the high school students to help during the school year.

“Some of them had helped last year and are really excited to help again and there are a few extras who hadn’t helped in the past that wanted to help, too,” she said.

Olsen was drawn to Willy Wonka Kids because the show is fun.

“It has a lot of great music and the characters are so classic,” she said.

Olsen pointed to the wide variety of bratty kid characters as one of her favorite parts of the production.

One reason for selecting Willy Wonka Kids is that it has a recognizable name, which helps draw kids to the workshop because they know the title and know what to expect, she said.

“I think it’s magical,” Olsen said. “I think every kid dreams of a place full of candy and strange creatures.”

The show is fun for kids and runs within the 30- to 45-minute timeframe Olsen wants for the final production.

The production team gathered at the DHS Fine Arts Center (FAC) on Sunday evening to set up risers and talk about their vision for how the production will look.

Olsen’s biggest task to accomplish on Monday was to cast all the parts from the students in the workshop.

“We will do auditions for the younger kids first and then the older kids,” she said on Monday. “Then I get to go home and try to figure out what 52 kids are going to be.”

The first day also involved introducing the kids to all the songs.

“This is a big show because there are a lot of solos and the songs aren’t just chorus the whole time – they go back and forth between soloists and duets and the chorus, and that’s more complicated,” Olsen said. “There are a lot of words in these songs, too.”

One of the students on the production crew is helping her keep all the music organized for the rehearsal.

The cast members get to sing along with recordings of the songs as a way to help them learn the numbers quickly.

A big test will come when the cast has to start singing the songs without the prerecorded version.

“It’s a lot of words to learn very fast,” Olsen said.

The older students on the crew help the workshop kids rehearse by demonstrating the dance moves and keeping the kids organized.

The workshop students are allowed to take the play book home, which is a part of the process.

“That’s a big expectation that they practice on their own and they come back knowing a lot of the words right away,” Olsen said.

The director’s book includes all the sound cues, which will simplify the rehearsal process when the sound effects are added to the production later in the week.

Olsen said the first rehearsals went well.

“It’s nice to see a lot of the same faces coming back,” she said. “A lot of the kids come from out of town, so this is the only time of year when we see them. It’s good to see them again.”

Olsen schedules regular breaks to help keep the kids focused.

“Especially for the younger ones who can’t read, two hours can be a long time to sit and listen and learn,” she said.

She called a break at mid-morning on Monday.

“I could tell they were getting a little antsy so it was time for the Animal Crackers to come out,” she said.

Olsen is confident in the students and said their enthusiasm will carry them through.

“There is so much energy,” she said. “They really put their hearts and souls into it and it’s impressive to see how quickly they learn. They are better than adults as far as how fast they can memorize and how fast they can learn dance steps. It’s pretty impressive what they are able to do in a short period of time.”

Olsen encouraged the community to come to the show on Saturday to see what the kids have accomplished.

“It will be a lot of fun,” she said.

Willy Wonka Kids will be performed at the DHS FAC at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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