Capitalizing on a unique opportunity, students from the Waukesha STEM Academy are putting on a junior version of the fractured fairy tale Into the Woods and in turn, are providing a fun night out for Waukesha families.
The unique opportunity comes from having a talented stage family at the school but it’s the combined efforts of the students in the cast and crew that make the opportunity work.
The musical, Into the Woods Jr., part of The Broadway Junior Collection and with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, provides a mash-up of four different fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk, with an additional storyline to hold it all together.
It’s an ambitious venture for the all-student cast and crew but the STEM students, who are maybe more well-known for their math and science skills than acting skills, had a secret weapon in preparing – John Cramer, managing artistic director of the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Cramer volunteered to help the charter school carry out the plans set last year by the students and a teacher who ended up teaching at a different school this year. Cramer said he didn’t want them to lose the opportunity to produce the show.
The play, like last year's, is being held at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, giving the crew and cast the opportunity to act on a real stage.
With the help of two others, Cramer and the students have been hard at work since early November preparing for this weekend’s shows. About 30 students, including stage crew, are involved in the play. The school’s drama and art clubs were a big part of the production, according to Cramer.
“It’s truly a STEM Academy production, with a very small budget for expenses,” Cramer said.
Still, the effort involved has been consuming and, at times, frustrating for all involved. Cramer said some of the students were new to the stage experience and did not know about the discipline involved in learning lines or other aspects however, he’s seen growth in all the students.
“There is a wide-range of skill sets and experiences that the students bring,” he said. “That growth is encouraging to me.”
Casting auditions were held. Cramer’s daughter Elena earned the role of Witch, a part she fills well. Elena is a fan of the show and, according to cast mates, knew the part even before auditioning. Other lead actors also have experience in plays, including First Stage Children’s Theater or in last year’s play.
Overall from the audience, the production didn’t seem like a traditional student play – the set, the lighting, costumes and music added polish. The storyline and actors’ portrayals held the audience’s attention through any rough spots.
Some of the students have really stepped up to challenge of participating in the student production. One is Alexandra Kurutz as stage manager.
“I put a lot of responsibility on her shoulders and she’s embraced it,” Cramer said.
He said the that there’s a sense of camaraderie between cast and crew that’s unique, especially since the crew just started rehearsing with them two weeks ago.
In a short time, they’ve formed a tight group, something that was apparent in a brief talk with a few of the students on opening night after the play. They finished each other’s sentences and talked over each other, fueled perhaps by an after show adrenaline buzz.
Ami Leigh Christnacht, Kurutz, Bjorn Larson, Charles Kuban, and Elena Cramer said that they were all looking forward to the upcoming shows.
Shows are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.