A Growing Park Theater prepares for growing viewers

Posted 10/6/21

Since the spring of 2021, in-person entertainment has been reviving in the Cottage Grove region. In April, The Journal visited Park Theater. They were preparing to present “The Theory of …

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A Growing Park Theater prepares for growing viewers


Since the spring of 2021, in-person entertainment has been reviving in the Cottage Grove region. In April, The Journal visited Park Theater. They were preparing to present “The Theory of Relativity” to live audiences. It would be the organization’s first time doing such since the COVID-19 outbreak. During the month of May, The Journal entered a Grease rehearsal at The Loft OUTDOOR Stage. There, a team of East Ridge High School students and staff were practicing for their return to in-person productions. It is now October. Live entertainment is proceeding, despite the COVID-19 Pandemic. Because of this, “Bear Snores On” and “Where the Wild Things Are” can educate Park High School (PHS) students and young audiences about theater.

Chamber Theater has been offered annually at PHS for around 15 years. When prompted to define the program, Laura Beard stated that it was drama “with training wheels still on.” She clarified, “Chamber Theater is experimental theater for students to learn what it means to be actors and actresses.”

In addition to instructing English at PHS, Beard is directing one-half of Chamber Theater. Her show is entitled, “Bear Snores On.” It is a stage adaptation of the children’s book that Karma Wilson crafted. Bear Snores On is set in a cave on a cold night. In the cave, a bear lay fast asleep. One after another, a party of different animals fledge the space. They brew tea, chow on honey nuts, and dance. But the bear snores on. Eventually, it rises from its slumber. The unexpected unfolds. Through a rhyming, rhythmic and bizarre text, Wilson exposes readers to hibernation, various species and friendship.

Park Theater is adhering to the authentic tale of Bear Snores On for their stage adaptation. However, some aspects of the show will differ from the book. To begin with, Park Theater’s version will have more characters. This is because every high schooler who auditions for Chamber Theater becomes casted. Secondly, “Bear Snores On” will have extra embedded humor. Finally, narration will occur throughout the performance. Beard illustrated, “We’re not just telling the story of bear snoring on, but we’re telling the story of telling a story.”

“Bear Snores On” is not the only Chamber Theater show of this season. Director Tracy Caponigri is leading a separate group of students to present, “Where the Wild Things Are.” Maurice Sendak created the original children’s story. Where the Wild Things Are tells a tale of consequences, imagination, and discovering the important parts of life. One evening, the young boy chases his dog with a fork. Max’s mother does not tolerate this mischief. She orders him to his room before he can eat dinner. In his bedroom, Max takes an expedition. He secures power over a fictional land that is home to Wild Things. However, while he is king, Max comes down with homesickness. He wishes to return home to his mom.

Park Theater’s “Where the Wild Things Are” will follow a slightly different plot. Kailey Gamnis is the student director of the play. In an interview with The Journal, she judged that “Where the Wild Things Are” will seem more imaginative than the original book. “It starts out around this whole idea that these children are trying to read the story, but all the pages have been torn out,” Gamnis summarized, “…they’re retelling it in their own way…”

The pupils behind “Bear Snores On” and “Where the Wild Things Are” are undergoing an educational journey in order to perform their shows.

First of all, they are screenwriting. Throughout both rehearsal processes, actors have transformed a partial script into a complete one. This is the aspect of Chamber Theater that has stood out to Caponigri. She expressed, “…[it] is really fun to be able to create the story that they see and…we’ve incorporated some of their ideas into what happens while they’re on the island; when the book doesn’t exist anymore…” To The Journal, Gamnis listed a couple of the cast’s visions: “We have a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t actually find in the book at all… like the monsters put on a fashion show and they do different games and races…”

Secondly, the contributors of “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Bear Snores On” are polishing their acting skills. Graham Shenton is one of them. He is researching the ways of a cub. The sophomore at PHS claimed to have been examining videos of bears, noting how they function and interact with parental figures. He added with a smile: “Ms. Beard has pulled aside us-me and the other two bears-to work on our growling and our snoring skills.”

Chamber Theater has also led Shenton to improve upon his confidence. “Well, one of the things that Ms. Beard has tried to work with me on is embarrassment,” started Shenton, “…being a bear and screaming is quite embarrassing… So we’ve been trying to prep me, because in later shows, I’m gonna have to embarrass myself in other ways, whether that’s physically or emotionally.”

Nardos Ayana, an 11th-grader at PHS, is learning how to portray a monster. In an exchange with The Journal, she claimed that she and her co-stars aim to demonstrate majestic stage presence: “Since we’re a smaller cast, having to play such big roles, like monsters, it’s so interesting…we’re just trying to fill up the stage with our presence and our body.”

In alignment with thespians, PHS students with a passion for behind-the-scenes tasks are receiving education. Beard insisted, “I mean, this is our learning play… even for the tech.”

Kylie Jones is a part of the tech crew for Chamber Theater. She is finding her way as the “Bear Snores On” Student Director. “I’ve never been a student director before,” Jones pointed out. “I’ve been learning the whole way through…it’s kind of cool for the students to realize that we’re all learning. We’re all continuing to learn.”

Chamber Theater mainly teaches its participants about screenwriting, acting and technology. This season in particular, though, has served as a responsibility lesson. Local youth are newly exiting the isolation that the COVID-19 Pandemic caused and returning to full-time, in-person school. “Kids and families, in general, are not in the habit of after-school activities,” Beard recognized. “And so, in some ways, students are remembering how to be committed to a program.”

Two main aspects of Chamber Theater enable this theater education to occur at PHS. Firstly, every student who desires to learn is granted that opportunity. Nobody is cut. Those who audition are casted. All who register for the tech crew receive assignments. Next, the “pressures” of purchasing rights to a show are absent in Chamber Theater. Beard provided details: “When we perform a musical and we cast a musical we actually pay money…for the rights. So, there [are] finances involved. With Chamber, [there are] not. And once that pressure is removed, it allows us a level of freedom, and just teaching kids to be actors.”

Momentarily, “Bear Snores On” and “Where the Wild Things Are” will not solely cater to new performers and tech crew members. It will provide young audiences with a taste of drama as well. Caponigri suggested, “It’s a great chance to try theater if you’ve never seen theater before, because it’s a short [play]. It’s small; it’s easy to bite off for those families who are like, ‘I want to take them to a play but I’m worried they’re gonna make noise.’ This is the show to make noise at.”

“Bear Snores On” and “Where the Wild Things Are” each run for under 30 minutes. Also, Park Theater will be offering a brief intermission in between the shows. These aspects will tend to the short attention spans of miniature viewers. “It’s a very simple, easy introduction to theater,” Beard concluded.

If readers wish to be humored, indulge in nostalgia, and witness the learning experience that Chamber Theater forms, they will have two opportunities to do so. “Bear Snores On” and “Where the WIld Things Are” will premiere at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. Sunday, Oct. 10 is the date of the second showing. It will begin at 2 p.m. Both of the presentations will take place inside of the PHS Auditorium (8040 80th St. S. Cottage Grove, MN). Tickets can be located for purchase on www.parkwolfpack.org/ tickets . Another way to secure one seat to “Bear Snores On” and “Where the Wild Things Are” is by donating to Park Theater’s Friends In Need Food Shelf drive. At each performance, they will be collecting new and unopened feminine hygiene product packages, deodorant, toilet paper and paper towels. One contribution will cover the cost of one ticket.