Students in Martinsville City Schools’ Performing Arts Academy will perform the winter musical, “Annie, JR.,” this weekend at Martinsville High School.
The academy accepts students from third to 12th grades, but regardless of their age, performers have been working hard to perfect the play about “little orphan Annie, who charms everyone’s hearts after her rough start in 1930s New York City.
Zoey Hannans, a sixth grader who is playing the role of Annie, said her favorite part of the production has been “not being so antisocial and actually talking to people and making new friends and expressing my passion for what I really like doing.”
She said she also learned that it is important to not be afraid to make mistakes, and she encourages others to experience the art form that she is so passionate about by joining the academy or pursuing another form of theatre.
“My favorite thing about theatre is meeting new friends, becoming friends with new people, and being nice to others and singing and dancing,” Hannans said. “What I advise people to do, I think that they should do theatre. Because you may not like the singing, but you’ll really get used to it and you’ll love the dances and everything and people are really nice here.”
Kamori Dillard, a ninth grader portraying Grace Farrell in the performance, said the people you meet while doing theatre productions are amazing people and the experience is unlike any other.
“It’s basically like having a second family, like the staff, the stage crew, everyone. You grow relationships with these people who you never thought that you’d grow a relationship, and you never thought that you’d even get to meet someone like that. It’s better if you have friends that do it,” she said.
Dillard has learned many different aspects of acting and what makes an actor accomplished, as well as how to bring a character to life.
“I’ve definitely learned some characterization skills, learning on how to build a character and build their emotions and just their characteristics that they may have. Just knowing how to put myself into my character and become that character based off just a script and based off just a few notes that are being given to me, and just learning how to pick up these emotions and different feelings on the stage throughout the whole building of getting the production done,” she said.
Dillard believes that having similar productions in schools is a valuable tool to teach “some life lessons and skills that will help you in the future.” However, she said the lessons go beyond theatre.
“We were taught how to measure and build props, and make scenes and all this stuff and we’re taught how to move props and so it’s really beneficial, especially if someone was getting into maybe like building or being an engineer. It’s actually really helpful. Not only for the people in the play, but for the people working behind the scenes,” she said.
Dillard said she is confused when people say that plays are boring/ She said she believes they don’t understand all of the hard work that goes into bringing a play to fruition.
“If you’ve never done a production and seen how it gets built and how this series of events just builds up to this big, amazing thing, you’ll never understand why I do what I do and why I continue doing it. So basically, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t knock it until you try it,” she said.
Monica Watkins, an eleventh grader playing the role of Miss Hannigan, said her favorite thing about the production is simply “acting the character.”
She’s learned several different lessons throughout the production.
“I have learned to not be so in my shell, but socialize with different people. Make mistakes in front of people so that way I get comfortable with doing it right. Practice makes perfect, because if you do not practice, then it’s not going to flow like you want it to,” Watkins said.
Watkins also believes that there are many advantages to these productions in schools, but the biggest is that they offer a safe space to students wanting to perform.
“I think an advantage is that kids who like to do different things, like singing, dancing …, they like to act. They get a chance to be in a safe space and put on a production, learn new things about it,” she said. “Also, getting the chance to show the community that hey, this is a good chance for us to raise money for the school, for this program that we’re trying to do. I feel like it really just gives kids a space to be themselves and perform like they would if they were at home.”
Logan Carter, a senior portraying Oliver Warbucks, said his favorite part is “the entire experience as a whole.” This is not his first performance, having done four productions at the school and one at Patrick & Henry Community College.
“I always enjoy these. They’re a lot of fun, I enjoy every aspect of it, but if I had to pinpoint, I guess it would be, at least for this show, putting on the show itself. There’s just so many aspects to putting on a show that I enjoy so much, having to pinpoint to one is kind of hard for me,” he said.
Carter has learned a valuable lesson about not second guessing himself and simply going after things.
“If you know you can do something, you can do it. Don’t second guess yourself,” he said of the lesson he learned from a previous role.
“Before this role, I primarily played sort of fictional characters, you know? I was in the ‘Lion King,’ and I played Pumba. I was in ‘Aladdin,’ and I played the Genie. I’ve played characters, I’ve played animals, I’ve played mystical beings of fiction, but Oliver Warbucks is a real person with real emotions,” he said.
The characters in this play are “not some sort of creature that was spawned to make entertainment. When I got into the role, I was kind of having doubts like, ‘Can I do this role? Am I going to be able to pull off the emotion that I need to?’
“As the process went on, I started second guessing myself, but as we’re getting closer to the actual show, I have noticed that I can do this. I know I can,” Carter said.
He too has advice for those considering getting into theatre.
“My advice is, don’t be nervous. I know that’s something that’s very hard to say, but don’t be nervous. If they want you, they want you. If they don’t, they don’t. It’s no big deal. There’s always going to be another show, you’re always going to have another chance. It’s not because you’re talentless, you’re just not what they were looking for,” he said.
“To have the courage to go to an audition in the first place is enough,” Carter said. “If you have the courage and the will to even show up to an audition and have a song ready to perform, I feel like that’s enough. You have what it takes.”
Carter encouraged everyone to “be kind to yourself and to each other and have love in your heart always.”
Tickets for “Annie JR.,” which will take place Dec. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 3 p.m., at Martinsville High School, 51 Commonwealth Blvd E, Martinsville. Tickets are $10. Information including cast list, ticket information, and more can be found at https://tinyurl.com/paaanniejr22.