Last weekend, fifth-grade students delighted a packed Performing Arts Center with the adventures of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The musical “Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka JR.” challenged the actors with its fantastic tale and charming songs, and they delivered.
“We chose this play, which was larger and more complex than we would normally do for Grade 5, because this particular class was ready for such a challenge,” said performing arts teacher and director of the production Amy Darnton. “The musical has themes around honesty, kindness, and the true meaning of a ‘golden ticket.’”
At the outset, the breadth of material seemed daunting to the cast.
“Memorizing all the lines was the biggest challenge,” said Julia Knijnik ’31. “But, I overcame it by practicing after school, even at times when I didn't feel like it, because I knew it would be worth it in the end.”
Students came into the production with different levels of experience, and Darnton was able to tailor challenges to each student. More experienced students developed vocally and tackled telling a solid story and creating strong characters. Students new to the process learned the fundamentals of acting, focusing on how to employ their bodies, voices, and imaginations and the logistics and vocabulary of the theatrical process.
Darnton said they all grew to understand that being nervous was part of the process rather than a hindrance. As Emilia Leng ’31 and Evan Krasnor ’31 reflected on the process, their embrace of emotions and fear stirred up by being on the stage was evident.
“You don't feel these feelings very often, so enjoy every part of it,” said Emilia. Evan concurred, “Don't be afraid of the stage.”
The material mirrored the personal growth students are experiencing as they prepare to transition to Middle School.
“They brought a high level of interest and ability to the process,” said Darnton, pointing to the character Charlie’s internal conflict with choosing to do what is right versus what is in his own interest. “Grade 5 students are in the process of figuring out what kind of people they want to be in the world, and this show gave them opportunities to step into the shoes of both the selfish and the kind.”
Gigi Mendez ’31 waxed philosophical as she thought about the play. “Not everything goes your way,” she said, and with some reflection, added, “Don't put too much stress on yourself.”
Seeing such personal growth off the stage impressed Darnton.
“Their ability to learn the music and sing it with character at such a high level was a lovely surprise,” she said. “This was a lovely group of human beings. They brought their talent and interest to the process and created what I think was a truly memorable experience for themselves and their audience. I hope to see them become a force in King's theater department for years to come.”