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WOP students perform for the first time at The Ritz

It was a first for the young players of the W.O. Parmer Drama Club – the chance to perform on the storied stage of Greenville’s Art Deco gem, the Ritz Theatre.

The youngsters presented their latest musical production, “Peter Pan Jr.” to an appreciative audience at the Ritz last Friday night, with 25 first- and second-graders bringing the beloved Sir J.M. Barrie story to life.

While it was the first time the students performed at the Ritz rather then their school’s cafetorium, the elementary school has established itself as a training ground of sorts for local youngsters interested in the performing arts. This is W.O. Parmer’s ninth year of mounting an annual musical production.

Preparation for the show began early in the school year, says “Peter Pan Jr.” producer/music director Sonia Crigger, W. O. Parmer music specialist.

“Even before the rehearsals started last fall, students spent a month learning about the different aspects of what it means to be on the stage . . . we played games that help with expression, improvisation and moving on stage,” she explained. “Then we assigned a page from the script for each student to memorize a character’s lines. Afterwards, they performed those lines in front of the entire club and the teachers/sponsors.”

Once the parts were cast, weekly, one-hour rehearsals began in October, with daily two-hour rehearsals after school beginning two weeks before the show date. During show week, the students got to rehearse on the Ritz stage each afternoon.

It’s no small challenge to undertake a production like this, Crigger admits.

“These are first and second graders with boundless energy – and the trick is getting them to direct that energy in a positive direction that will actually enhance the performance of the production,” she said.

It appears the school’s annual musical productions will expand to include students from Greenville Elementary School in the 2018-19 school year.

“The desire is to include third and fourth graders who are interested in continuing the ‘theater experience,’” Crigger said.

This music educator believes arts education is invaluable as part of the curriculum, with the stage a place where certain students who may not be academic stars can truly shine.

“They get the sense of what it feels like to be successful . . . they learn the value of feedback, both positive and constructive,” Crigger said. “The performing arts can become a great confidence booster with some children finding their ‘voice’ while studying the arts. Creative expression can be so helpful in allowing introverted and reserved children to break out of their shells.”

And the performing arts provide a safe arena for youngsters to explore a gamut of emotions, Crigger says, from delight to anger to deep unhappiness, fostering a child’s sense of independence and interdependence.

The educator emphasizes there are many lessons to be learned through the arts – and the chance to practice them on a hometown’s fabled stage makes them even more enduring.

“Our drama club students will not soon forget this amazing experience in Greenville’s own historic Ritz Theatre,” Crigger concluded.

The cast of “Peter Pan Jr.” included three Peter Pans rotating the role – Landon Houston, Clay Powell and Caleb Rhodes with Camille Bozeman as Wendy Darling, Triston Hanson as John Darling, Zoe Paulding as Liza, Antonio Oliver as Michael Darling, Khloe Hamilton as Nana the Dog, Jordin Dunklin as Mr. Darling, Cordarious Bellamy as Mrs. Darling, Cameron McClaney as Nibs, Kaidence Davis as Slightly, Aspen Adams as Curley, Latrell Dunklin as Twin No. 1, Jordan Moorer as Twin No. 2, Aldonis Robinson as Tootles, Layla Grace Adams as Captain Hook, Penelope Miller as Smee, Ava Casey Benson as Noodler, Levi Philen as Jukes, Mattie-Katherine Norwood as Starkey, Courtney Taylor as Cecco, Adalyn Lett as Tiger Lily, Caylee Heartsill as Small Brave Girl and Electra Lucas as Brave Girl No. 1.