For the cast of “Stuart Little,” this weekend’s production represents unfinished business.
In March 2020, the Yankton Children’s Theatre Company (YCTC) was just days away from presenting the classic story of the tiny mouse and his giant adventures.
And then, the pandemic hit.
The play, along with other Lewis and Clark Theatre Company (LCTC) productions, were cancelled or put on hold amid the uncertainty of COVID-19 for both performers and audiences. “Stuart Little” was put on hold for a year and is now set for April 9-11 performances at Dakota Theatre in downtown Yankton.
For co-directors Tracy Taylor and Josh Stibral, this weekend’s rescheduling of the play provides redemption and another chance.
“This is our first children’s production since last year. We had planned to do it this time last year, and we got within 2½ weeks of the opening before we had to shut down,” Taylor said. “When we brought back the play this time, everyone in the cast was part of last year’s production.”
However, some adjustments —notably cast downsizing — were made this go-round in recognition of the ongoing pandemic.
“With COVID, you just can’t have 45 kids out there. If we had done this show last year (with the full cast), it would have been so sweet and adorable,” Taylor said.
“But this year, we limited it to the children who were 8 years and older. We also didn’t have a lot of practice time and we’re trying to social distance on stage. Those are all reasons we wanted to simplify it and limit it to the older kids.”
The year’s delay has provided some benefits, Taylor said.
“It was sort of like starting from scratch. We had the chance to try some new ideas and change some things with the cast,” she said. “We were still doing some switch up a couple of weeks ago.”
In the end, the cast is more than ready to take the stage, she said. “It’s going to feel so good to put on this production and feel some closure,” she said.
For 12-year-old Amelie Faulkner, landing the lead role of Stuart Little also represented a second chance of sorts. She wasn’t chosen for a role in her hometown production, but she still wanted a chance to take the stage.
“My mom looked around for other shows and saw that Yanktion was doing ‘Stuart Little,’’” Faulkner said. “I asked her what the play was about, and she told me it was the show about the mouse and the car.”
Faulkner decided to audition and landed the lead role.
However, Taylor and Stibral liked what they saw in her, particular her determination to try out for another production. She also showed spunk and tremendous energy in her audition.
“She brings her own personality to the role,” Taylor said.
Faulkner admitted she was stunned at getting the part.
“When I got the lead role, at first I was stressed out because I’m not good at memorizing things. But once I put the script down, the lines were kicking in and I don’t really need (help with my lines),” she said.
“I’m on the stage most of the time. There’s only one scene where I’m not on stage, and that’s a scene with the cats. Otherwise I spend a lot of time on the set. I guess, after the first few practices, I was basically living on the stage for the entire time.”
The year’s hiatus hasn’t diminished her fire to do the part, she said.
“When I got the role, I was super excited, and that excitement hasn’t gone down,” she said. “I watched the movie, and it seems like Stuart was a nerdy mouse. But when I act in the role, I’m not thinking about how Stuart did something in the movie.”
Stibral, a 20-year-old in his first co-director role, also performs in the cast as Mr. Little and the superintendent. He said he was impressed at Faulkner’s performances with her own take on the role.
“She did scenes that were amazing. We didn’t ask her to do the scene that way, but she brings such personality to the role and has these break-out moments,” he said. “You live for those moments in theater. That’s the whole point in exercising your creativity, when actors bring their own personality to the character.”
Faulkner brings energy and leadership to the stage, Stibral said.
“Amilie is very loud and creative with her personality and is a very great actor,” he said. “Last year, there were days we needed to work on things. I told everyone to go home and scream at themselves in the mirror and work on their projection. The next rehearsal, when I asked who did (the exercise), Amelie raised her hand and no one else did it.”
Beside his directing and acting roles in the production, Stibral has written three songs that the cast will during intermission.
“Tracy asked me if I would write three original songs. When I write kids songs, I want to make kids a part of it. I ask them what they would like to sing. I got a bunch of different answers, which makes it more fun,” he said.
“My third song I wrote with the intention of talking about life lessons we can learn from Stuart Little. We’ll have the entire cast leave stage except for two who will stay and do a spotlight song. The two cast members at the end will sing about what we learned (in the production).”
Stibral wrote two songs last year and added the third song this year. He has spent anywhere from an hour to a duration of two years composing songs. Besides his LCTC work, he has performed in Yankton High School and Mount Marty University productions.
Faulkner looks forward to performing for the audience and receiving their feedback. She has enjoyed meeting new people, particularly other young actors, in the production.
“I’m glad to do something where everyone is really chill,” she said.
This marks the first time for co-directors in the YCTC, and both Taylor and Stibral have enjoyed bouncing creating ideas off each other.
“It’s a really fun show. The kids are working really hard on it,” Taylor said. “You see how much fun they have with it, and are really working together. It’s a heartwarming and really sweet show. And it’s been fun to see how the kids have grown throughout the production.”
The audience will have a good time, Taylor predicted.
“It’s a good opportunity to get out with your family,” she said. “We’ve all been trapped in our homes for a long time (because of the pandemic) and are looking to enjoy something like this. We need it.”
The play will run April 9-11 with performances Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
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