By Dave Topp
Welcome to the jungle, the scene of Solley Elementary’s production on May 3. For its first performance, the newly created drama club will take center stage to re-enact the Disney classic “The Jungle Book.”
“It’s a brand-new thing that we haven’t had before and we’re very excited about,” Principal Jeff Haynie said of the club. “It’s very exciting for all of our students.”
Sixty-nine students from grades three through five will work together to portray the roles of Mowgli (played by Mayo Mabifa), Bagheera (Madeleine Huzzey), Baloo (Nick Flannagan), Shere Khan (Jaiyla Battle), Shanti (Jasmine Dominguez-Taco), Kaa (Gage Wright) and the many other characters found in “The Jungle Book.” Some of those students will gain valuable experience working offstage to ensure a smooth performance.
“Everybody knows it, it has a lot of great parts in it and we have 69 children right now in the cast,” said Deb Engler, the school's drama director. “That's children who work backstage and are onstage. To cover that many parts, that was a good story to choose for them.”
Students began auditions and rehearsals in October, meeting every Monday for close to an hour and a half.
“They are awesome,” Engler said, discussing the progress students have made since the fall. “The kids are stepping up for the backstage work. They're stepping up for the onstage work.”
Engler, who taught drama at Freetown Elementary in Glen Burnie for 16 years, has assembled a talented group of assistants to help bring “The Jungle Book” to life. Martha Gardner, a former fifth-grade teacher at Belvedere Elementary, brings plenty of experience from working at the Children's Theatre of Annapolis. Her daughter, Katie, a physical education teacher at Marley Elementary, has volunteered to teach the choreography for the show. “The kids are loving that,” Engler said.
She also mentioned that several Solley teachers have pitched in to make the play a reality. “The other teachers at the school have just picked up the slack and it has really helped out a lot,” Engler added.
The task of teaching a bunch of first-time performers doesn't come without it challenges.
“What's funny is the kids that are not in the big parts in the show try to watch the show while they're onstage. They don't realize they are in the show and they need to be facing the audience,” Engler said with laugh. “It's really cute. They've come a long way with that."
Nevertheless, a buzz has spread through the school as opening night nears. “We hear from their teachers that they are so excited to come to drama on Mondays,” Engler said.
Students will perform two dress rehearsals leading up to opening night. On the Wednesday before the show, May 1, the drama club will give the after-school program a taste of what's to come. The following day, a second dress rehearsal will be held for the fellow students of Solley Elementary.
“The kids are very excited. You can always tell when it’s Monday for the play practices,” Haynie said. “It’s exciting for everybody, not just the kids. The staff is looking forward to it as well.”
Opening night then takes place on Friday, May 3, with the performance beginning at 7:00pm. Tickets are $5 at the door and children 5 years old and under may enter for free.