Wonka takes the Stage

Story by Tonda Bradley

Discordant notes ring out as the orchestra warms up and tunes their instruments. Although it is not a pleasant sound, it is necessary to make sure that the music is sweet and beautiful at the beginning of the show. The crowd continues to shuffle in and look for that perfect seat. The seats creak as parents help their children get settled. Excitement and anticipation are palpable in the air. Friends greet each other and talk as they wait for the show to begin. The lights dim and brighten, signaling the five minute warning. The voices hush as anticipation builds.

The music conductor, Mr. Ken Futterer, Associate Professor of Music at Arkansas Tech University, dons his lime green vest and steps forward into the spotlight as the house lights go down. All eyes and attention are focused on him. He turns to the orchestra, begins to wave his arms, and the first notes of the evening are played as the curtain opens.

Willy Wonka (played by Kane Bradley, a senior vocal music education major at Arkansas Tech University) steps into the spotlight. As fog rolls around him, he begins to sing, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination….” His costume is a bright purple overcoat and top hat with a lime green bow-tie, and a bright orange vest.

Wonka calls for his “oompa loompas,” and over 20 orange-faced, green-haired children from the local community take the stage. Thus begins the evening of magic as the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center presents the musical “Willy Wonka,” with music and lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, and book by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy A. McDonald. The musical is based on children’s novel, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl.

The play is the culmination of six weeks of rehearsals by the cast, directed by Dr. Ardith Morris, Professor of Speech, Theatre and Journalism at Arkansas Tech University.

The set is bright, colorful and imaginative. It was designed by Catherine Martin and constructed by Technical Director, Daniel Stahl, who is also the theatre director at Clarksville High School. He and his crew spent over 100 hours constructing the set. It was built in Clarksville, moved to the Techionary, and moved again to Witherspoon Auditorium the week of the show.

Special effects such as bubbles, fog, snow, conveyer belts, tinted spotlights and innumerable others add to the ambience of the show. Jason Hann, lighting designer, makes sure that each scene is lit to reflect the mood.

Costumes designed and created by Janet Cook add the visual effect of color and imagination. She and her assistants spent over 140 hours sewing and painting. Altogether, it is an evening that will be remembered for delighting children as well as adults, as the final bow elicits a standing ovation.

Every year, local actors and actresses, young and old, anticipate the summer musical. Try-outs are usually in mid-May and many families come to participate. Missy Hooten and her four daughters, Hannah, Rachel, Sarah, and Rebekah, ages fourteen, eleven, eight, and seven respectively, look forward to the performance every summer.

“When I was growing up”, says Missy, “I had a good friend, Emory, that was involved in theatre. I always wanted to be in theatre, and I loved to sing and dance, but circumstances prevented me from being able to participate.”

“It was so exciting this year to come to practices and see Emory Tyson Molitar and her daughter, Olivia. It was great to reconnect after so many years, and for our girls to spend time together.”

Hannah and Rebekah say that their favorite part of being involved is meeting new friends. Rachel loves the fact that she gets to spend time with her mom and sisters. She feels that the experience brings them all closer together as a family. Sarah just wants to be a star. She loves theatre, singing and dancing, being in the spotlight, and the hard work.

Summer theatre is definitely a family affair, and a family-bonding experience. There were 30 families that were involved in this year’s musical. Keely Futterer, Assistant Director/Assistant Musical Director, Arkansas Tech University Vocal Performance major, states

“It is wonderful having so many families involved. Two families, the Hootens and the Mullins, had all four of their children involved this year. Many of the families return year after year, and a lot of the kids that participated in Annie, two years ago, returned with younger siblings in tow. It’s really fun,” Keely said.

“They become like our family, because we get to watch them grow up. It’s also really great having families participate because many of the moms and dads work behind the scenes wrangling oompas’ and helping with make-up.”

Keely and her family are no strangers to the theatre scene either. She and her family have been doing summer theatre for over 25 years. Her sister, Erin Futterer, a graduate of Arkansas Tech University, was Stage Manager/Prop Designer/Assistant Director. Her mother, Karen Futterer, Associate Professor, Music Department, Arkansas Tech University, was the FOH sound operator, and her sister, Carling Futterer, a freshman at Arkansas Tech University, was part of the orchestra, playing violin.

This was Daniel Stahl’s 10th year of working with Ardith Morris. This year, Stahl’s wife Sherry, was cast as Mrs. Gloop; his oldest daughter, Avery , age 7, was cast as one of the town’s children, and his youngest daughter, Audrey, age 5, was the youngest oompa loompa.

“I have been working on the summer productions for 10 years, but this is the first year that my wife and daughters were all involved. It was great because my family got to experience the thrill of the theatre with me.”

Stahl feels that his daughters will carry on the tradition of theatre in his family for years to come.

Julie Jacks Robinson lamented that this was the first year she had done the play without any of her three girls. One of her favorite memories is talking about the rehearsals on the way home in the car with her daughters.

She states that, “Theatre really is a team effort. It takes everyone doing his or her part to make the whole thing work. Each person depends on his/her fellow actor to deliver their lines, because you feed off those with your lines.”

Families are involved every year because parents know that theatre is a wonderful learning experience for their children. It teaches children about commitment, hard work, team effort, history, self esteem, and time management, to name a few.

“I love sharing my love for theatre with each new generation” states Ardith Morris. She has been involved with directing community summer theatre for the past 18 years.

“Everything I have learned about anything, I’ve used in theatre” she says. There is so much knowledge required to direct and produce a show. Everything from colors used on the set, to the style of the costumes, to even the mannerisms of the actors/actresses must be correct for the time period it is reflecting. Attention to detail is crucial.

Theatre is a wonderful experience all around, not only for the audience watching, but for the performers as well. Kane Bradley states, “I perform so much better when I know that the audience is enjoying what I’m doing. I don’t want to let them down, so when I know they’re into it, I give it all I’ve got. I love that part. That’s what makes this experience worthwhile.”  

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