The director of the local production of "The Sound of Music," Bill Gleeson is well-aware of the old show business adage about never working with animals or children. But, his experience over the past few months working with the seven children in the show's von Trapp family has been just the opposite.
"I have found the advice about not working with children to be inaccurate as I worked with the young cast members," Gleeson said. "It has truly been fun seeing them grow as actors."
As for the children, they are excited about showtime, which comes this week at Presser Performing Arts Center. They each have their favorite, songs, scenes and back-stage stories.
The oldest child of the widowed Captain von Trapp, a naval officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy just prior to the outbreak of World War II, is Liesl.
Her part is played by Mexico High School student Loralee Hays. Loralee is an experienced actress, having appeared in six previous PPAC and MHS productions.
"I play a sheltered, nurturing teen who has been serving as a substitute mother for her six younger siblings during the evolving stays of various governesses," Loralee said. "Liesl doesn't know much about the dangers of life, and is a little girl at heart when it comes to romance because she wants life to be like a fairytale."
Loralee also tries to shepherd the younger cast members who play her siblings. "I try to be a mentor to them, and to handle them in a loving way as Liesl would," she said. "I encourage them, and remind them to keep up their emotion level on stage."
She had to take her own advice one evening when an uninvited guest swooped down on the stage."A bat flew right into the middle of our scene," Loralee said. "I don't do rodents of any kind, so it was hard to stay in character and keep going."
Another Mexico High School student plays the oldest son in the family. Isaac Prior plays the role of Friedrich, who in the movie version of "The Sound of Music" self-describes himself as "impossible." Isaac says he enjoys this production and the three other ones he has been in.
"Presser Performing Arts Center is such a friendly community theater," he said. "Everyone is welcoming, and everyone is given a chance to shine. Lois Brace (PPAC's executive artistic director) is one of the kindest and most creative people I've ever met."
Isaac's favorite song to perform in the show is "Edelweiss," a song based on Austria's national flower, which gives the family members a chance to declare their loyalty to their country before they flee the Nazis. "The song is pretty, and shows the emotion of the play and the true character of Captain von Trapp," he said.
Page 2 of 3 - An actress new to the stage plays daughter Louisa. Emily Chastain, age 12, who attends Mexico Middle School, is pleased with her new experience. "I like being with the other children, and learning my lines and songs," she said. "My favorite costume is the one in the wedding scene."
Daughter Brigitta also is played by a MMS student, Sarah Kasubke, age 11. Sarah has been in six or seven PPAC productions, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get nervous."Sometimes I have to try to calm myself down," she said. "Then I know if I mess up, no one will know."
Sarah's favorite song and scene is the complex production of "Do-Re-Mi," when the governess (played by Jennifer Strunk) first teaches the children how to sing. "It was fun learning all the words and the dance moves," Sarah said. "I have a lot of speaking lines also."
One of Sarah and Emily's favorite rehearsal memories involves the other son of the family, Kurt. Fulton resident Alex Armstrong plays Kurt, who ran into some trouble backstage. "Alex yelled that he was stuck in the restroom, where the door knob is kind of tricky, but we thought he was kidding," Sarah said. "So we didn't tell anyone."
Alex really was stuck, and soon his absence became evident. "He missed two scenes because we didn't think he was serious," Emily said. "We had to stop ourselves from laughing when he finally slipped on stage."
Alex didn't enjoy being stuck, but he thinks his experience is well-worth it. "I am enjoying working with the other kids and increasing my knowledge of acting," he said. "My favorite part of the play is when I get to walk Maria down the aisle in the marriage scene."
The two youngest girls in the production are Miriam Gleeson, who plays Marta, and Haley Chastain, who plays Gretl. Miriam, age 9, attends St. Brendan School, and Haley, age 8, attends Eugene Field Elementary School.
Miriam made her debut on the PPAC stage nearly nine years ago, as a baby in her mother's arms during "A Christmas Carol." She enjoys the production, even when there are inconveniences. "I don't like it when the microphone itches behind my ear," she said. "And sometimes I wish I could just sit and see the show like the audience because I just wonder what it would be like if I wasn't in the show."
Haley is in her first show at PPAC. "I thought trying out would be fun, and that being in the play would be a cool thing to do," she said. "I am closest to Miriam, and my favorite song is "Raindrops on Roses" because it makes you feel better when you are sad."
Both Haley and Miriam have had a fall during rehearsal. Miriam fell while running during one scene, and another cast member accidentally ran over her. Haley fell off the stage when she got too close to the edge.
Page 3 of 3 - "We just jump up and keep going," Haley said.
All of the children in the play continue with their school lessons, even while practicing every evening. "They have worked extremely hard, putting in many late nights learning choreography, music and blocking while still being responsible students during the day," Gleeson said. "I am so proud of what they have achieved personally and what they have added to the production as a whole."
Tickets for "The Sound of Music" are available by contacting www.presserpac.com online. The shows are at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 6-8, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9.