Kid actors re-hatch classic tale of bullying
MIDDLEBURY — Being different takes courage, and in a world comfortable with conformity “different,” unfortunately, often means facing harsh bullies. Hans Christian Andersen illustrated this first in his classic 1843 fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” where a homely little bird suffers abuse from all around him until he matures into a beautiful swan.
The story of personal transformation in the face of adversity will be re-hatched by the Middlebury Community Players, with “HONK!, JR.,” Nov. 7-10 on the Town Hall Theater stage in Middlebury. This children’s musical adaptation of the Ugly Duckling story will be performed by the Foundations wing of MCP, which was established to give children their first experience with community theater.
“Ida is a loving mother duck, but when one of her new ducklings turns out to be different, she has to adjust,” reads then play’s synopsis. “She loves her Ugly, but the other barnyard residents are not so understanding; some are even mean and bullying. Through a series of events, Ugly is sent on an unexpected journey of discovery, encountering various creatures along the way. Some are helpful, some dangerous, some kindhearted, but all contribute to Ugly’s own understanding of having a place in the world.”
Through song, words and dance, 20 Addison County kids will put on “HONK!, JR.” with support from their director/choreographer Kymberly Breckenridge, stage manager Margaret Gish, and music directors Sarah Stone and Annette Franklin.
“This is a musical take on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic Ugly Ducking tale,” Breckenridge explained. “It’s about humanity’s ability to transform, but what’s closer to home for the children is the topic of bullying. We talk about the bystander, the bully and the victim — intentional and unintentional bullying. That’s what I try to focus on with the cast.”
Breckenridge, a native of Vermont who moved to Cornwall just last year, stepped into the role of director when MCP asked her.
“They heard I was a theater teacher and asked me if I could direct,” Breckenridge explained. She taught theater at Essex High School for years, and also has a professional background in improv comedy.
“I generally approach directing children with an educator’s point of view,” she said. “We start with a check-in circle. Then launch into a discussion about a topic I want them to think about during the rehearsal; and then warm up with a theater game.”
But Breckenridge says this isn’t why she loves directing.
“My absolute favorite part is right at the end of the first performance,” she said. “Everyone has so much energy — it’s a rush… That’s what I’m doing this for.”
Maybe so, but there’s a lot of good life lessons going on in the work they do at every rehearsal.
“Most of the players are in fifth through seventh grade,” said the 48 year old Breckenridge, who’s daughter plays the role of the Cat. “When I talk about what bullying was like when I was a kid, that’s something that looks very different from what bullying looks like today… The kids identified one of the main differences: technology.”
Breckenridge continued, “Even if you are bullied, you still have the power to transform, despite the reactions of others.”
That’s the message of this play.
That message resonates with music director Stone, too.
“The thing that makes us all special is our own individuality,” said Stone, who has been involved with over 20 MCP shows, and is also a member of the MCP Board of Directors. “If we all looked alike the world would be a dull, dud of a place. Every child needs to hear the message that it’s OK to be different, and kindness should always be your first response.”
The moral of the story is catchy, and so is the music.
“The music is so contagious and playful,” Stone added. “Children of all ages will be humming these tunes all the way home in the car.”
Franklin, who assists Stone with the musical director duties and is the accompanist, has been most impressed with the way the lead characters have developed their stage personalities.
“The cat is particularly creepy,” Franklin said referring to Maya Breckenridge.
The other lead characters include, Ugly the duckling played by Xavier Fuentes-George, Ida the mother duck played by Callie Rees, and Drake the father duck played by Lucas Flinner.
“I am so impressed how hard all of the kids have worked,” said director Breckenridge. “This is a hard time of year to put on a show because the kids are juggling sports practice, dance recitals, etc… I’m very proud of them.”
“HONK!, JR.” will take the stage at the Middlebury theater Nov. 7-10, with Thursday and Friday’s performances at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday’s shows at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $8 plus fees, and are available along with more info at townhalltheater.org, by calling (802) 382-9222, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the box office Monday-Saturday12-5 p.m.