Every child plays a role in Waynesboro Children's Theatre

November 18, 1999

OliverBY RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - About 75 children, many of whom never saw a stage until three months ago, were dancing, singing and acting Thursday night in a final dress rehearsal for "Oliver," the play based on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist."

The play is the fourth production of the Waynesboro Children's Theatre Troupe, a local ensemble that gives a part to every child, from 6 to 16, who tries out.

"We don't want to tell a kid that he or she isn't good enough," said Stephen Kulla, a Waynesboro attorney who is producing the play.


The troupe's philosophy is to expose kids to the theater, said Nancy Girio, director and choreographer for "Oliver."

"They practice hard and they really grow," Girio said. She said about 25 percent of the cast is new this year. "They come to the tryouts scared to death, barely able to sing 'Happy Birthday' or 'Jingle Bells' and end up singing and dancing on stage," she said.

Kulla said his biggest challenge as producer was to get all cast members together for the thrice-weekly rehearsals that were held from September to opening night.

It costs about $5,000 to put on a play each year. The money comes from troupe-sponsored fund-raisers and ticket sales.

He said choosing a play is difficult. It must have a big cast as well as language and scenes that are appropriate for young actors. Kulla said he struck some language and references to drinking from "Oliver."

Past productions have included "Cinderella" and "Peter Pan."

Girio, who has two daughters in the play, got involved when one of them was in an earlier play. "I just started helping out," she said. Her own exposure to the theater is limited to acting in high school plays, she said.

The theater troupe is a community effort with no connection to the schools, she said. It's run by volunteers like Carol Helman, the make-up artist and costume designer who was busy Thursday night adding finishing touches to the period costumes.

She said "Oliver" is one of the easiest plays she's done. Helman said she sent the kids home with basic ideas on how they should look and their parents came up with the costumes. "I only had to make a few minor changes," she said.

"I volunteer to do this every year as my gift to the community," Helman said.

Jennifer Barciz, 12, plays Bet, a singing part. She's acted in school and church plays before, but said Bet is her biggest role so far. "I'm really thinking hard of singing and acting as a career," she said.

Oliver, the lead role, is played by Tyler Oyer, 12. He, too, has stage experience, including "The Music Man" and roles in school and church productions. "The hardest I've played was Mr. Spielman in 'A Star Is Born,' but Oliver is one of the more challenging roles I've done," he said. Oyer said he enjoys acting, but he isn't sure he wants to make a career of it.

Artie Sievers debuts in a starring role as Fagin, the old man who takes in street kids and gets them to steal for him. Sievers, too, has been in school plays, but said Fagin is his most challenging role. "I just really love acting. It's a natural high for me. I plan to make it a career," he said.

Kristina Stockton, 12, tried out for "Oliver" after seeing "Cinderella" last year. "It seemed like fun and a chance to make new friends," she said. She plays a character called Old Sally.

Girio said the kids bond with each other during the weeks of rehearsal.

"It's the neatest thing. They really get close. There will be a lot of crying on the final night," she said.

The play opens tonight at 7 p.m. at the Waynesboro Area Middle School auditorium. It runs Saturday at 7 p.m. and again Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $2 for adults and $1 for children at the door.

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