Riverview talented thespians make a splash with ‘Little Mermaid’May 08, 2023 12:12PM ● By Julie Slama
Riverview Junior High School students recently performed “Disney’s Little Mermaid, Jr.” on the school stage. (Photo courtesy of Janel Williams)
Sixty-seven Riverview Junior High students recently spent their afternoons the past three months dedicated to their production of “Disney’s Little Mermaid, Jr.”
“It’s a large commitment,” Riverview Junior High director Alexie Baugh said. “Many of them were proud and excited; they hadn’t done a full musical before. I was really impressed with the kids and how hard they worked.”
Helping Baugh was applied technology teacher John Johnston with overseeing the set construction, choir director Lindsey Parker directing music for the show, Lukas Orton managing lights and sound and many parents volunteering where help was needed.
It’s the second full musical Riverview has held since the COVID-19 pandemic suspended traditional presentation of shows.
During 2021, Baugh’s first year at the school, she wrote a mini-musical, “Once Upon a Pandemic” about the impact of COVID-19 and performed it, socially distanced, on Hillcrest Junior High’s larger stage. Last year, about 80 students performed “Aladdin, Jr.” to several sold-out audiences.
This year, she wanted another musical with lots of parts for her student actors.
“There were just a lot opportunities to highlight so many kids, so that’s one of the reasons that I picked ‘Little Mermaid.’ I usually don’t do two Disney shows in a row, but it gets the kids excited, and the music is iconic. This just felt it was the right fit. It’s fun, colorful, exciting and high energy and we want to make sure that it’s a family friendly environment where everybody can come,” Baugh said.
“Little Mermaid” also had a relatable theme.
“These are teenage kids who are trying to make their way in the world, and you have this character, Ariel, who’s trying to find where she belongs. Most people relate to that and they know how it feels to have somebody tell you, ‘No, you can’t be that,’” she said. “Instead of giving up, she tries to find her way in the world. She has the sisters who in the junior version, are fully in support of their sister. They want her to be happy. You have Flounder, who’s her cute little quirky friend, that says, ‘you’re crazy, but you love this stuff and I’m your friend and I’ll listen.’ There’s so much to be learned there.”
Through theater, Baugh wants the students to have fun, but also experience the magic.
“I want them to have fun and to learn. The kids learn how to work together. About half the kids in my show this year have never performed before. They’re all learning how be a friend and with their fellow actors, encourage them or ask them if they have questions. It’s so great when kids feel that sense of community and they do all want to give their best because they don’t want to let each other down or themselves down,” she said.
They’re learning how to take the opportunity and make it a genuine learning opportunity.
“Many of the students are trying something new and are taking a risk of standing up in front of their peers and parents with having 800 pairs of eyes looking at them. After opening night, they’ll come back and say, ‘We did it.’ They’re excited and exhilarated; they feel that sense of accomplishment and they’re so proud. When people clapped and cheered, it was such a rewarding feeling for them,” she said. “At the same time, theater is an authentic environment. We talk about applying what we learn in school to real life. Theater is real life. When your audience shows up, you can’t say, ‘Never mind, we’re not ready, come back another time.’ There are real deadlines and a real audience. If you put on a good show, they’re going to clap and cheer. It’s what happens when you do something great, and you put in the effort and work hard.”
The show required dedication from the students.
“We worked a lot on choreography. I had a lot of kids that have never danced before so they learn to dance and move. Choreography is always fun, especially with ‘Under the Sea.’ I wanted to see if they could do a little Latin inspired type dancing, so I taught them how to move their hips,” she said. “The two eels decided they wanted to perform in Heelys and really practiced with them until they got really good. It was fun to see from the first day when they were both a little bit nervous to where they finally got into production where they really could glide right across the whole width of the stage.”
A concerted effort also was made with the music.
“The music is hard, and Ms. Parker did not let them simplify the music. She was like, ‘Nope, there’s three parts here. We’re going to learn three parts.’ They learned harmonizing and blending; they learned the tones and stylistic ways to perform; and they learned they can do hard things. Learning how to work with different costuming was tricky, with ‘Under the Sea,’ some of them had big starfish costumes and others carried umbrellas and learn not to hit the audience with them; they had to learn to focus and be aware of their surroundings while performing,” Baugh said.
That includes learning to perform on the modified stage.
“Our stage doesn’t have wings. It’s shallow on the edges of the stage. So, I really try to do as close to a single set that can be manipulated as much as possible. That’s what Mr. Johnson built for us, what I call ‘the cave.’ By the steps on the sides of our stage, he built platforms in front of those. One platform was the castle for Eric and the other cave was Ursula’s cave, so we had the land and the sea that that were always there. That helped us move things around a little bit and have more of kind of a set rather than pieces coming in and out all the time,” she said.
Baugh really was proud of the effort the students did with their characters.
“I really try to work with the kids on their characters and to learn how to tell the story. Even in one scene, when Ariel is in the Grotto, I used my actors to hold all of her trinkets. When she sang her song, they were moving and had pleasant faces because I told them somebody likely would be looking at them. I told them, ‘If you’re in the scene, even though you’re not the focus of the scene, you have to look at what can I do to help tell the story.’ And they did that. They also learned to share the spotlight. For some, maybe they didn’t get the part they were hoping for, but they learned they still wanted the person that got it to do well so the show would succeed. That showed their maturity, their desire to work as a team and to celebrate each other. I’m really proud of them.” λ