Young Junie B. challenges, prepares students
First-grader Junie B. Jones brought energy and spunk to Radford University in holiday-themed performances in December.
The show “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,” put on by Radford University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Dance and Theatre, was designed primarily with younger audiences in mind.
Students put on two shows a day for area school children. Such a tight schedule meant the actors had to keep up a quick pace.
“With a run time of 70 minutes, our change over needed to happen in under 20 minutes,” said Department of Theatre and Cinema chair and director of the School of Dance and Theatre Carl Lefko. “The challenge was compounded with not only having to reset stage props, but since it snowed during the last two minutes of the play, all hands were called to sweep and vacuum the stage for the extraordinarily quick reset.”
Lefko added that the crew’s effort and dedication made the transition seamless and was completed with time to spare.
To prepare for the 980 children – plus a separate day of public performances – the actors went through a rigorous rehearsal schedule with director Molly Hood, who also cast the performance.
“We rehearsed Sunday through Thursday evening from 6:30 to 9:30 for four or five weeks,” Hood said. “In that time, I’m telling them where to go and what to do. I’m the eyes and ears of the audience before they see the show.”
Hood classifies herself as an actors’ director.
“I’m not interested in telling them to move and be exactly a certain way,” Hood said. “Usually, I will come in with my script, with the blocking and movement already done, but when they first get up on their feet, I tell the actors to trust their own instincts. I give them the freedom to have control over the little movements so the show is more natural. If they got lost or confused, I will give them my blocking, which they can try.”
While Junie B. Jones is family-friendly production, it still had a fight call, which is a time dedicated to actors to go over complex movements prior to a performance.
“We very carefully choreograph any violence, if there’s anything like that,” Hood said. “We didn’t have any violence in Junie B Jones, but we did have a fight call because of the complex movements in one portion of the play. I encourage them to trust their own instincts and to not be afraid of them, which is something that can encounter with young actors or actors in the professional world.”
The School of Dance and Theatre works with the students to help accommodate and manage their time during rehearsal season.
“Academics come first,” Hood said. “If they aren’t in class during the day, they can’t come to rehearsal at night. We worked to help them balance this activity alongside their academics. We provide the resources, the mentorship and the support to get help from us if they need it. We encourage them to be independent at the same time.”
For a detailed list of upcoming events in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, check out its event calendar.