This year's December production is bigger than ever at Hawkeye Community Theatre.
Larger-than-life foam costumes and brightly painted set pieces will transport the audience into the Antarctic. Over the show's three-day run, 60 actors will take the stage, many of them less than 12 years old.
But trying to get a rehearsal to run smoothly is a bit like herding penguins.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Ava Clay, 9, plays a terrified krill talking with a hungry orca, played by Karie Karr. Behind her Leah Hughett, 14, Jericka Fitzgerald, 13, and Lauren Schwendemann, 10, try to protect her. The penguins, seals and krill are on a quest across the Antarctic in which they learn a lot of creatures’ stories.
"It's insane," said Director Mike Shoopman.
HCT will present "Why Penguins Can't Fly and Other Tales of Antarctica," by T. James Belich Friday, Saturday and Dec. 16. Tickets are $10.
The play follows Lori the penguin and her siblings on a fanciful tour of the frozen continent. That is, what starts as a tour turns into an attempt to not get eaten by a hungry leopard seal who eventually sends the birds on a quest to find the magic fallen star that once gave penguins the ability to fly.
If you go:
WHAT: "Why Penguins Can't Fly and Other Tales of Antarctica"
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Dec. 16
WHERE: Hawkeye Community Theatre, 521 N. 12th St.
TICKETS: $10 or suitable membership level, available at the door or at www.hawkeyetheatre.com
PROCEEDS will go toward the Hawkeye Community Theatre's scholarship fund.
A different cast will perform each night.
"I wanted every kid to be able to have a part," Shoopman said. "We had 60-some try out and I thought, well, I could have a real good cast and have a lot of extras. Then I thought, well, I could go two casts and just a couple dozen extras.
"And then I thought, I've got 60 and it calls for 20, why don't I do three casts? And that's when I left the sane world."
Dual casts are always hard, he said. Each must learn the blocking.
"And with children, you're teaching too," Shoopman said. "And you can't yell at kids. This is supposed to be learning, and fun."
Leah Hughett, 14, and Jericka Fitzgerald, 13, explained the difficulty of multiple casts.
"It's kind of hard because people get different practices," Fitzgerald said.
Some people miss practices, they said, which means they can't practice all the parts.
"So sometimes you practice with green team's Sue, and it just gets confusing," said Hughett.
The casts are divided into red, green and gold teams, one for each night.
The girls described the structure of the play.
"It's basically a story telling a whole bunch of other stories," Fitzgerald said.
"One story leads to another story and so forth," said Hughett.
Both said this is their second play at Hawkeye.
"It's fun to be up on stage," said Fitzgerald, "because you get to work with the director, and you get questions answered about what you need to know."
"It's just fun because this is my first year having a big part," Hughett said. "Previous years I only had a little part. It's kind of fun, you know, learning all your lines."
The annual December show has become a time to teach kids and encourage theater experience. The proceeds for this show will go toward HCT's annual scholarship for a graduating senior or college freshman who is involved in theater.
"Kids are great," Shoopman said. "They're making memories and that's what this is about. They're learning theater."
Fourth-graders Lauren Schwendemann, 10, and MaKierra Harvey, 9, are enjoying their first time in a play.
Harvey plays a colossal squid, working a big foam costume that requires four actors.
"It's fun. Like, I don't want to wear that big huge thing, but if I have to I have to," she said. "The only thing I don't like is learning all the lines."
As a penguin, Schwendemann's costume is a bit easier to use.
"I enjoy learning my lines, and putting on the costume, and being in the paper," she said.
Through all the difficulties, Shoopman has been happy with how the kids are learning, and impressed by their talent.
"Kids will surprise you, as long as you hang with them. They'll come through for you," he said.
Things may seem hopeless one day, but turn around the next.
"They'll come back the next day and just blow your socks off. Of course, their minds are like little sponges at that age. They can learn lines like, it would take me a couple months and they get it in a few days."