It’s two weeks to showtime and the middle school cafeteria is abuzz — nay, atwitter — with activity.
Co-stage manager Maeve Coretti works to pass out cast T-shirts, before she perches on the edge of the stage to take notes on scene arrangement coming from co-director Marybeth Timmer.
On stage, cast members — aka townspeople — practice hitting their chip-on-the-shoulder marks, while co-director Michelle Kastanek urges “Big voices!” from offstage.
The upcoming production is a big deal for the 50 or so cast and crew members of “Music Man Jr.,” and a big deal for Kastanek, middle school administrative assistant to Principal Anthony Morey. She has been working for years to get a theater program going at the middle school.
“I couldn’t believe there were no drama opportunities at the middle school,” Kastanek said. “Drama is so important, not only in the confidence they get from getting up in front of their peers, but how their public speaking improves. Even their reading comprehension. Learning to empathize. It all ties in. It’s so good for them.”
Kastanek started a Shakespeare Club three years ago under Peter Stuursma, the previous principal. Last year was the middle school’s first play, “Anne of Green Gables.” Last year’s theater program was funded through a grant from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation. This year, the PTO is sponsoring the production.
Seventh-grader Estelle Metz, who plays a townsperson, is co-stage manager along with eighth-grader Maeve Coretti.
“I’ve been doing theater for a while, mostly crew but acting as well,” said Estelle. “It’s hard. I’m running onstage and offstage all the time, but I really enjoy it.”