Acting natural

Theaters have had separate productions involving classic fairy tale characters Goldilocks, the Three Bears, Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel.

Jackson County Community Theatre decided to use the talents of more than 30 local youth to blend these characters and others into one show.

“A Walk in the Woods” is set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre in Brownstown.

Since last summer, this marks the third opportunity for children to participate in a local theater production.

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A weeklong children’s theater workshop has been conducted the past four summers. It ended with a skit the first two years, but theater officials thought it would be good to give kids a chance to go through an audition process for a show.

Last summer’s production of “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids” led to the formation of Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre and a winter production of “The Ever After.”

“There are several board members that were a part of JCCT when they were children, and there was an era where they had done a lot of children’s shows, so they understand firsthand the benefit of investing in these kids now,” said John Rohlfing, director of “A Walk in the Woods” with his wife, Julie.

“Some of these kids are likely to get involved in theater as adults as a hobby, possibly as a profession,” he said. “(The board members) get it, and they have come full circle now, and now, they are ready to invest in the next generation. JCCT has been around for 46 seasons now, so this is part of their investment in the future.”

In recent years, grants have allowed children to attend the summer theater workshop at no cost. Rohlfing said he’s not aware of others theaters in the region that are able to do that.

“It’s a win-win all the way around and for the kids,” he said. “We’ve got something special here, and we really want to be careful with that and really keep that going and do right by the kids.”

To conduct the workshop and “A Walk in the Woods,” JCCT received an Arts in the Park grant, which is a partnership between the Indiana Arts Commission and Indiana Department of Natural Resources. That partnership is endorsed by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

Sixty-five children, from elementary to high school, participated in the workshop, and about half of them are a part of the show.

With the grant, JCCT partnered with Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia for a pair of events.

The first was a visit to the park during the workshop with local artist Joe Reynolds, who conducted a lesson in drawing an outdoor setting. Each participant received an art kit, supplied by the grant funds.

The second event was a presentation of some scenes from “A Walk in the Woods” on Saturday on a stage near Starve Hollow Lake.

Rohlfing said those events were appropriate because of the 12 scenes in the play, nine take place outdoors.

The young actors have had only three weeks of rehearsals. Rohlfing said a majority of them have been involved in the workshops and productions, but some are new to theater.

“For the kids who have not had experience, it’s a chance to stretch themselves, just to try some stuff and realize how much fun it is,” he said.

“Ultimately, this is helping these kids pick up life skills,” he said. “It’s teaching them about just being aware of themselves, aware of the space around them, how to communicate things through more than just words and sort of tap their own experiences.”

The Rohlfings also directed “The Ever After,” and John said it has been interesting to see how children involved in that show have progressed.

“There were kids who had one or two lines or no lines at all who just from that experience grew so much learning how to just be in front of an audience,” he said. “They got the theater bug, and they came back. What we’re teaching is working, and this is something that they really want to do, so that’s been really, really neat to see.”

They are excited to see the kids take to the stage again.

“Every rehearsal, we see the kids bringing more and more to it,” John said. “We’ve told the kids, ‘We’ll pour everything we can into the time we’ve got,’ and we expect them to contribute the same way. It’s the same way we did ‘The Ever After’ in the winter, and the kids responded amazingly. They come and pour into that.”

Bridget Bingham, 10, of North Vernon, said this summer was her first time attending a theater workshop.

“I’ve done a couple of plays, and I liked it a lot that I get to be on stage,” she said. “It’s just natural.”

During auditions for “A Walk in the Woods,” the children were able to try out for certain characters. Bridget chose Goldilocks because she gets to be on stage a lot.

The next challenge was memorizing the lines.

“It’s kind of complicated, kind of not,” she said. “You just have to practice them.”

Marco Valdivia, 15, of Seymour was a part of the winter play, and that encouraged him to attend the workshop this summer.

“The workshop helped me know how to show different emotions for the different characters you would be playing,” the Seymour High School freshman said. “I’ll be able to show off more emotions than I could have done before.”

Now that he is preparing for his second time in a play, Marco said he feels comfortable on stage.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” he said. “I’m in choir, and we have had to do stuff like this before.”

Marco, who plays the Butcher in “A Walk in the Woods,” said it has been a good experience working with his castmates and seeing the play come together.

“You can see who they truly are and how they go through it,” he said.

Hannah Hackman, 12, of Brownstown, is playing the Gypsy in this weekend’s play.

She has participated in the summer theater workshop the past two years.

“I was always a dramatic person, and then we saw (information about the workshop) in the paper, and my mom told me that she wanted me to try it. I tried it, and I loved it,” Hannah said. “I just really liked being with the actors on stage. It was really fun and exciting.”

The play after last year’s workshop was Hannah’s first time on stage, and she said it helped her learn how to speak loud and give emotion.

Going into this year’s workshop, she said she was more comfortable on stage.

“Memorizing my lines, I was a lot quicker, and I was just better at speaking because I was more comfortable with the stage and everybody,” the Brownstown Central Middle School seventh-grader said.

Since she had experience this year, Hannah said she was able to help other kids who were new to theater.

“When we’re waiting to go on stage during rehearsals, I’ll practice my lines with people, and I’ll help them memorize their lines,” she said.

Hannah said she is excited about opening night, and she’s grateful local youth have an opportunity to participate in theater.

“If they are shy kids, they’ll just come out on stage and be bold and confident,” she said.

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What: “A Walk in the Woods,” a children’s theater production written by Debbie Metzler and presented by the Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Tickets: $8; available online at; if any tickets remain, they will be available for purchase the night of the shows