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It takes a community to stage a musical

Theater production includes entire families  

Byron Center — It takes a community to raise a musical off the pages of a script to a live performance in just two months.

Under the direction of Van Singel Fine Arts Center’s new managing director, Michelle Wagner, the community theater production of “The Sound of Music” brought together a cast of Byron Center staff, students and their families. 

“Community theater is coming back, and everyone is gravitating to it in a really cool way,” Wagner said. “Students auditioned from all over the community, and it’s really neat to see whole families be involved in the show.” 

Byron Center High School secretary Betsi Ingersoll stars as Maria Rainer in the Van Singel Community Theater production of ‘The Sound of Music’
Byron Center High School secretary Betsi Ingersoll stars as Maria Rainer in the Van Singel Community Theatre production of ‘The Sound of Music’

The show’s female lead, Maria, is played by a familiar face: Byron Center High School secretary Betsi Ingersoll. 

Ingersoll said she didn’t think she’d be asked to try out for the show while dropping off her daughter for her audition. 

“It’s one of my favorite childhood musicals, so I was a bit rusty but knew all of the songs,” she said.  

Wagner said they cast 60 people for the show, after deciding to expand the number of chorus roles to include more participants. 

Forming the von Trapp Family

There are no lonely goatherds among the children and teens cast as the von Trapp children, all of whom are Byron Center students. 

A few years beyond 16 going on 17, Amber Bright graduated from Byron Center High School last year and returned to play the role of Liesl von Trapp.

“The age range of the cast is so wide, and it really adds depth to the show,” Amber said. 

Senior Clinton Wierenga, who plays the second oldest von Trapp child, Friedrich, said his favorite thing about the show was getting to sing classic songs. 

West Middle School eighth-grader Lily Holland said her favorite was how the cast became a family. 

“We feel like real siblings because of how close we’ve grown during this show,” she said. “We’ve come so far in such a short time.”

Graduate Director 

The von Trapp children admire their captain, aka youth theater director, Paul Kimball.

Kimball said he didn’t become involved with Byron Center High School’s theater club until last fall, during his senior year. 

“I got cast in the lead role of Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’ and fell in love with it, so I went out for the musical and got cast as the Prince in ‘Cinderella’ and then helped with the youth production of ‘Shrek JR.’ in the spring,” he said.

After graduating high school, Kimball wasn’t ready to say “So long, farewell” to the theater, so he returned to assist Wagner with “The Sound of Music.”

“We work a lot with the von Trapp children on character development, why their characters are saying and doing the things they’re doing,” he said. 

Van Singel youth theater Director Paul Kimball as the Prince in Byron Center High School’s performance of ‘Cinderella’ in February 2023
Van Singel youth theater director Paul Kimball as the Prince in Byron Center High School’s performance of ‘Cinderella’ in February 2023

In his new role as the youth theater director, Kimball said his goal is to learn as much as there is to know about directing musicals. 

“I love learning as much as I can about something,” he said. “Being able to have a direct impact on the final production is really gratifying and makes a difference. 

“The Sound of Music” opens on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., with a matinee show on Sept. 16 at 2 p.m., and a final evening performance at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online.  

Read more from Byron Center: 
The stage is where her heart is
Student art gets gallery showing

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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