HARVARD -- Young thespians at Hildreth Elementary School have been hard at work rehearsing for the upcoming Superstar Productions performance of the children's classic "Anne of Green Gables."
By their first performance on Saturday, Nov. 9, the 17 third- and fifth-graders in the cast will have put in over 45 hours of rehearsals.
Kate Hoch founded Superstar Productions in 2003 and has since brought a total of 40 plays to the stage involving hundreds of children.
At a recent rehearsal, Hoch says, "Acting is creating something real in imaginary space," she tells the kids. "If you believe it's real, then the audience will believe it's real."
Hoch spends time with each cast member, firmly believing that every child's performance is critical to the success of the show.
Hoch is assisted by choreographer Edie Hettinger, a performer and dance instructor who has been with Superstar for over 5 years, and producer Melissa Niland, who is a kindergarten teacher at HES and whose daughter, Brady, is in the cast. Deborah Prince Smith is accompanist.
Parents play a vital role in supporting the production. "All of the parents are asked to pitch-in in some way, whether it be helping to clear and set up the cafeteria, make props or set pieces, design and distribute advertising materials or help back stage, sell tickets or usher. The parents are truly the backbone of our program" said Hoch.
Everyone is a valuable part of the team no matter how old they are or how many years they've been acting. After a recent rehearsal, Hoch asked the students to go home and do their homework so teachers will be supportive of their students being in the play and so that others would have the chance to do plays in the future.
Parents of cast members appreciate the life-lessons being taught in addition to the acting skills. Ken Riddle, parent of Emily Riddle, who plays Mrs. Pye and Sarah Gillis, asserts that "being in the play has helped Emily focus and to learn to be patient while waiting for her time in the scene. She has also learned the value of teamwork."
When asked what keeps Hoch coming back year after year, she credits her passion for the lessons that theater teaches children. "Actors must study the play's period in history and think about what their character's culture and life would be like. They must think about how their character would feel in specific situations and how their actions affect others. This kind of active empathy can be very powerful and can help students to be more compassionate people."
Within four days of Superstar's next production being announced (Mulan, slated for spring of 2014), the 25 slots had already been filled. She often has students who've aged out come back to help backstage and even co-produce some of the shows.
Anne of Green Gables, set on Prince Edward Island in the late 1800's, is the tale of a young orphan, Anne Shirley (played by Faith Massoni), who comes to live with Matthew Cuthbert (played by Rocco Massoni) and his sister Marilla (played by Meredith Greayer) who have asked for a boy, but instead find their hands full with a fiery red-haired girl. With her spirit and determination, Anne wins over the Cuthberts and the townspeople in this heartwarming story of love and family.
Performances are Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17, all starting at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 each and can be purchased in advance by contacting Kim Lindo 978-456-8260. The performance is not appropriate for children under the age of 5.
Tickets will also be available at the door.