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Joyce Endee

Putting the pieces together

Key players bring "The Little Mermaid, Jr." together

November 20, 2012
The crew behind what is expected to be the first production of "The Little Mermaid, Jr." in the state is hard at work, with a few creative principals helping to bring things together.

The Gilford Middle School production of "The Little Mermaid, Jr." will take the stage in December. In the meantime, music teacher Matt Demko is working to get the more than 70 players ready while art teacher Aaron Withum has been working on the sets and visuals for such a complex and colorful production.

Nearly 70 students in two casts have been working long hours to get the musical ready.

"For middle school drama, it's a balance of having fun and putting on a good show," Demko said.

Demko said both casts have equal amounts of talent with great performers. The students from grades five through eight are diverse group of students with varying degrees of theatrical and music ability who are also involved in different activities, a mix that Demko said he wanted.

Demko said he wanted to "go all out" for the play.

"We wanted to put on the best show we could, knowing we were doing the New Hampshire premiere of this show," Demko said.

He said the students have been good to work with, and they have taken responsibility to memorize their lines, learn their dances, show up for rehearsals, and many other tasks. Overall, he said the kids seem really excited.

"We've got a really good history with this program; they want to make this show as good as the ones in the past," Demko said.

The decision was made to extend the rehearsal period for the show. Demko said he knew this would come with interruptions for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, as well as fall sports season.

Demko said he is aware that the middle school kids have many things going on, and he made accommodations for everyone's activities and schedules.

Sports season also allowed for Demko to work with smaller groups of students when they were available, working on aspects such as character building.

While Demko has been handling the talent, Withum has been working with the play's visuals and his own talented group of students.

Withum said he has done set design on many shows for the elementary and middle schools.

"You're taking the source material from the play and creating something three-dimensional," Withum said.

Withum and Demko met and spoke about the set design of the play.

"Matt and I came up with an idea together of what the show's going to look like," Withum said.

They worked with high school auditorium Technical Director Scott Piddington working with the venue.

Withum said he wanted to capture the mood of the play working with set pieces, lighting, and other elements. He said one of the advantages of the play was the movie, which provided for many ideas for visuals.

The play's underwater environment has made for some unique opportunities for visuals.

For the first time ever, the play will also feature background video features. Demko and Withum have been working with middle school computer teacher Vlad Vascak to create computer animation effects to create the effect of water and passing fish. They also consulted with a professor from Plymouth State University on the effects. The animation will include drawings and designs of fish done by students as well as designs by Withum.

"We're really taking a leap forward to try to do something," Withum said.

Withum said Water will be illustrated by flowing pieces of fabric being moved by actors to create the effect of waves.

The play's visuals, lighting, and sound will be the job of the tech crew, which includes many students from the middle school. Withum said he has been teaching these students about tools, safety, and working in theater among many other skills. Some students have worked tech on multiple shows, with some specializing in lighting and sound work.

Withum said he will begin with basic designs and wait to see where the students' abilities lie before going forward.

Withum said the student tech members have been having fun and many plan to do tech at the high school. The students who do tech at the middle school will come to the high school already groomed for the work.

Demko said the play has received much support from the school and the community with many teachers and parents helping out. He said the production was also greatly helped by a group of parents, who did activities like bringing in food to help out the students.

"School theater's a real community based event." Demko said.

In the end, Demko said he really wanted people to be wowed by the production.

"The Little Mermaid, Jr." will play at Gilford Middle School on Dec. 13, 14, and 15 at 7 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 15.

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Varney Smith
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