Out of all of the Christmas activities people will do this season, going to see Playhouse in the Park’s Christmas productions is at the top of a lot of lists.
Playhouse in the Park is a Murray community theater, and has been one of the longest continually running community theaters in the United States since 1977.
It hosts a youth theater group, classes for the community and have a summer camp for theater.
Starting this weekend, Playhouse in the Park is bringing a couple of favorite Christmas tales to the stage including “Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells Batman Smells” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Both productions will run for two weekends starting today and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” will feature a cast of all teenagers. This famous Christmas classic just had the copyrights released, so many will be eager to see the stage production.
The “Junie B. Jones” play is cast only with children. Everyone is 12 years old or younger, even in the adult roles. With their performance in “Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells Batman Smells,” these little actors will make even the biggest Scrooge in the audience giggle.
Junie B. Jones is a “feisty 6-year-old with an endearing penchant for honesty,” according to a review of the book series by USA Today.
Her books have been read by 55 million children worldwide, making her a familiar face on the New York Times bestseller list.
In this stage adaptation of her Christmas play, Junie B. Jones finds herself in a predicament when she can’t seem to get along with her classmate, but ends up drawing her name at their secret Santa party.
Lisa Cope, executive director of Playhouse in the Park, said there was an overwhelming number of children that wanted parts in this production.
“We had 50 children audition for only 11 roles, so we ended up having three different casts for the play,” Cope said.
According to the American Alliance for Theater and Education, drama can improve skills and academic performance in children and youth with learning disabilities, it helps improve attendance and lower dropout rates.
“It helps kids with public speaking,” Cope said. “It makes them figure out how to work as a team. They learn discipline – things like how to be on time. Being in theater will give you skills you will carry with you all your life, even if these kids don’t want to grow up to be actors.”
Second grader Jacee McKeel and fifth grader Skylar Swalls, actors in the Junie B. Jones production, do want to be actors when they grow up.
Both girls have done many plays at the Playhouse in the Park. They have made a lot of friends working in the theater.
“I was scared at first, but then I just got to meet a bunch of people,” McKeel said. “And now I’m very close friends with them which I’m very happy about.”
Both girls have a strong love for acting, even at such a young age.
“What I like most about acting is whether you have a large role or a small backstage job, it really doesn’t matter,” Swalls said. “Just as long as you’re there with people you look up to and people you can learn from.”
When asked about their plans for the future, McKeel was very excited about planning to attend Murray State.
Swalls, on the other hand, has another college lined up.
“I don’t want to offend anybody here, but I’m going to Julliard,” she said.
Story by Taylor Inman, Staff writer