2009-11-12 / Front Page

‘Willy Wonka’ a sweet musical for JCT

By Stacy Jones

Artistic Director Mary Wright (foreground) talks with the cast of “Willy Wonka” during rehearsal Monday evening. Enthusiastic reviews are expected when the Jamestown Community Theatre’s autumn musical production opens this Friday evening at the Jamestown Recreation Center. Photo by Jeff McDonough Artistic Director Mary Wright (foreground) talks with the cast of “Willy Wonka” during rehearsal Monday evening. Enthusiastic reviews are expected when the Jamestown Community Theatre’s autumn musical production opens this Friday evening at the Jamestown Recreation Center. Photo by Jeff McDonough When Mary Wright and Patty Vandal founded the Jamestown Community Theatre in 1991, they had a small budget and a simple goal: Create an activity for kids to keep them off the streets.

The request came to Patty from the local Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force and the group’s first production was “Peter Pan.”

Today, the nonprofit’s budget still doesn’t rival that of Trinity Rep, but it has evolved to embrace not just the growth of children, but adults and the community as well. Its latest production, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” opens this Friday with an all-island cast and crew ranging in age from 7 to 81.

Charlie’s family makes room for everyone as they share their only bed in a scene from the Jamestown Community Theatre’s “Willy Wonka,” which takes to the island stage Friday evening. Photo by Jeff McDonough Charlie’s family makes room for everyone as they share their only bed in a scene from the Jamestown Community Theatre’s “Willy Wonka,” which takes to the island stage Friday evening. Photo by Jeff McDonough “There is talent everywhere,” said Wright, JCT’s artistic director. “It’s very important for all people to have different outlets to express their strengths, or to find their strengths.”

Wright, a longtime elementary and middle-school teacher, is originally from New York City. While living there, she took a stab at an acting career. She enrolled in acting classes, appeared in an off-Broadway play, and had a small role in the daytime drama “The Guiding Light.”

Ultimately, she chose academics over acting, determining that she lacked the vital skill of selfpromotion.

“I’ve developed more moxie over the years, however,” Wright said.

That “moxie” has been channeled into her passion for self-expression and personal growth. It’s an obsession that has fueled her teaching and become the cornerstone on which the JCT was built. It’s also a key factor in its continuing success.

“We make sure that every child, every person shines,” whether their role is onstage or behind the scenes, Wright said.

For children, the benefits extend beyond the stage.

“Self-esteem definitely goes up,” Wright said. “You can see them grow in confidence from the beginning of the show to the end.”

There’s another added perk: Every child that auditions gets a part.

“We don’t tell them this,” Wright said.

The positive effects of being involved with the JCT became clear to Durga Larkin as she witnessed the maturing of her daughter, Dana, now 13, who began performing with the group when she was only seven. Confidence and time management abilities are a couple of the skills acquired by her daughter, she said.

“She loves to be onstage and she pulled the rest of the family in,” said Larkin, house manager for the production and JCT board president. “It’s been so much fun. The JCT is now a family endeavor.” Family members take part in a variety of the theatre’s productions, both onstage and backstage.

For Jan Trousilek, 13, the draw of the theatre can’t be narrowed to one single factor. “Acting makes me more confident and I’m willing to put myself out there more,” said Trousilek, who is playing the gluttonous Augustus Gloop in the Willy Wonka show, his third JCT production. And the camaraderie created during the months of rehearsals is hard to beat. “I love it. Everyone is able to work together. It’s amazing how everyone is dedicated to it,” he said.

Despite his past acting experiences and the good vibes of the group, Trousilek admits he is a little nervous.

“I’m afraid what people will think of me in this role since I’m nothing like myself. This character is very rude and demanding,” he said. In real life, Trousilek said, he’s “very talkative and social.”

It is this tension, and the opportunity to grow that attracts many of the JCT participants. Terry Horsley, who plays Willy Wonka, said, “It’s a thrill for the adults to see the kids grow into better and better performers.”

“This connection between kids and adults is unique,” Wright said. “It’s about forming healthy relationships.”

And, as in life and relationships, there is disappointment. The JCT experience “is not exclusively roses,” she said. “There are some losing experiences, everyone may not get the part they want. But in the end, everyone wins.”

It seems “Willy Wonka” is the perfect play to spread the message about the importance of family, personal growth, learning from difficult situations and taking risks.

“It’s not just a children’s play,” Wright said. “This is an all-ages show. Everyone will understand it on a different level and come away with different lessons.”

“Willy Wonka goes beyond being a simple story,” said Horsley, a semi-retired engineer who has been involved in community theatre for many years and in many states. “I see it as a dream play, the resurrection of an old man looking for someone to continue his dreams. Inside the spine of a play like this there is a little dose of reality.”

Wright agrees, calling the Roald Dahl play “ahead of its time.”

“In this age of cell phones and computer games, where is the family?” she asked. “We’re all moving too fast. We’re forgetting that there is a childhood.”

For Horsley, the experience reaches much deeper.

“Music is the voice of the soul. There is no drug, no fulfillment more exciting than performing in front of an audience where everyone is in tune,” he said.

Not all of the JCT participants have such metaphysical reasons for volunteering their time, energy and talent. For Teresa Murray, who has worked backstage on several productions, the attraction is simple.

“It’s a great opportunity to get involved in my community and have good conversations among friends and make new friends,” she said.

The JCT’s production of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” begins tomorrow at the Jamestown Recreation Center, 41 Conanicus Ave. Performance dates and times are Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday, Nov. 14, both at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 15, at 4 p.m.

The following weekend, performances will be Friday, Nov. 20, and Saturday, Nov. 21, both at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 22, at 4 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased in Jamestown at Baker’s Pharmacy, the Secret Garden, the Conanicut Marine Store and at Cathryn Jamieson Salon. In Newport, tickets will be sold at Pleasant Surprise and in Wickford, at Midnight Sun. Ticket prices are $13 for adults, if purchased in advance, and $16 when purchased at the door; Children 12 and under, and seniors 65 and older, are $8 purchased in advance and $11 at the door.

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