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Kids’ production a big hit at Cultural Park Theater

By CJ Haddad - | Dec 1, 2020

PHOTO BY PATRICK ONUFER WITH PATRICK O'PHOTOS Members of Wolf Creek Collective, a theater for kids, by kids, presented "The Legend of Mulan" this past weekend at Cultural Park Theater

This past weekend at Cultural Park Theater, it was the kids calling the shots.

A full show staged, directed and choreographed by members of Wolf Creek Collective — an all-kids performing arts group — hit the stage as “The Legend of Mulan” was performed in front of a socially distanced and sold-out audience.

Wolf Creek Collective, spearheaded in the Cape by Bridey Kearns, allows the students to use their imaginative and creative ideas to perform, direct, choreograph, write and influence an on-stage production. Kearns has been choreographing shows at Cultural Park Theater since 2017.

This past weekend was the troupe’s first full performance and probably the first of it’s kind in Southwest Florida.

PHOTO BY PATRICK ONUFER WITH PATRICK O'PHOTOS 12-year-old tech director Emma Kane, right, helps Logan King (8) get ready while 12-year-old choreographer Emily Salazar, back left, prepares to put on "The Legend of Mulan."

“I’m proud of the fact there’s no precedence for this — no one that they could have seen do it before, and no one that they could have learned it from,” Kearns said. “They came in as the first kids to do something like this and it takes a lot of initiative. The fact they were able to learn what we taught to them and apply it so quickly to make a full-fledged show in only 10 weeks just really impresses me.”

The show was directed by 10-year-old Eden Fautz, choreographed by 12-year-old Emily Salazar with lighting and sound handled by 12-year-old Emma Kane.

“You can tell when someone loves something because they take it up so fast,” Kearns said. “They really absorbed the knowledge, it’s not forced. And with all three of these girls, the knowledge was there. They all really love what they do and they jumped right in.”

Fautz, full of spirit and energy twice her size, said she enjoys taking things in from her director’s chair and hopes it becomes a regular spot for her in the future, as she wants to be a director.

“It’s different definitely,” Fautz said of seeing things from her new perspective. “It’s also really fun because you have a say in what you want to see. I’ve done a lot of plays but I like being on the other side a lot more than being on the stage, actually.”

After the student creative team was found, they held auditions, like any typical show, except the students were the ones selecting the cast after going through a casting workshop with adult theater professionals. Fautz and Salazar then worked with their cast at rehearsals to put on the full-length production that has been edited and workshopped by Fautz.

If you were in the audience, you may have noticed some stylistic differences from the traditional show  — all part of the way they make it their own. All three of the team leaders came together to shape the script, style and mood into their vision, not just what was written for them.

“I can imagine it, and then it’s on stage,” Fautz said.

Kearns said even though she was younger than most of the cast, Fautz was the perfect fit to direct their first show.

“She is not shy, she’s got a very confident personality,” Kearns said.

All students in the cast had the opportunity to participate in set design, props or costume crew as well. Kearns said a team of dedicated adults create anything the kids can dream up. In the end, the entire show is made from the imaginations of the youth who are putting it on.

Salazar, who took on both the role of choreographer and stage manager, said her love of dance and having that creative freedom was a major reason she chose to take on the challenge.

“I get to really bring my own style to the show,” Salazar said. “I like teaching and I like dancing, so it’s a good combination of both. It gives me a chance to do it my way and teach my peers, which is really fun.”

Salazar listened though each track and in her mind, put together what she felt best captured each moment.

“I put together some lyrical and soft movement style dances, but also some hard and sharp movement dance,” she said.

She was also cognizant of how much her peers would have to learn and take in over a short period of time.

“They have to put in work and I don’t want to overwhelm them with dancing,” Salazar said.

Working behind the scenes was no easy feat either, as Salazar constantly was changing sets, moving props and making sure each scene had the right backdrop and cast members.

Working the booth and illuminating those sets, Kane picked up the technological side of every production pretty quickly.

Kane learned from the pros at Cultural Park Theater during a summer camp and stepped up to the plate for Wolf Creek. From hitting cues on time to handling microphones and commanding the sound and light board, there’s a lot that goes into what the audience sees on stage beyond the performers.

“There’s a lot of different lights on stage that no on really ever sees until they’re on,” Kane said. “When you’re creating the show, you have to find a good mix of things and take into account what the director likes. I was having Eden see what kind of interesting lights she liked for each scene.”

Collaborating with peers is something new for Kane but was an experience she gained from.

“It’s been interesting,” she said of working with an all-youth team. “I’m so used to being on stage and singing and dancing. I like a challenge on the other side of the stage, and Eden and I have worked closely together to make choices — ones that would have interesting effects on the story.”

In the beginning, Kearns was expecting to run the show with a more simplistic lighting style, that was until Kane jumped on board and brought the presentation over the top.

“We were planning on having no tech,” Kearns said, that was until Kane volunteered her skills. “She really has amplified it to another level. The kids had stuff we didn’t think we were going to have. She brought it to the level of shows that are put on at Cultural Park.”

Kearns said it was encouraging to see the students take direction from their contemporaries and give them their full attention and dedication.

“One-hundred percent they support everything that their peers say,” Kearns said. “I was a little worried about that. I think because the kids know this is a kid-run project, they were very receptive to learning from their peers.”

Having a bit more creative freedom from their student-director to tweak roles to fit personalities also helped build the imaginative atmosphere, Kearns said.

“It’s not just Eden’s show — she’s in charge overall, but because each student got a piece of it, there was never conflict,” Kearns said.

Wolf Creek’s second show is “The Velveteen Rabbit,” directed by 12-year-old Addison Kalbhenn. Show dates are Friday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 12, at 1 p.m., at Cultural Park Theater, located on Cultural Park Boulevard in Cape Coral. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids and can be bought at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/42738.

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj