The Von CAP Family Theatre
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 10 Feb 2018
Yes, I know it’s the story of the Von Trapp Family Singers featured in the beloved favorite The Sound of Music. But when CAP-Altoona (Class Act Productions) puts on a show, it’s always a family affair. Their upcoming production (starting February 16) is, as usual, filled with kids.... many of whom have gotten their parents and other loved ones involved as well.
Two of the CAP producers for The Sound of Music are Jen and Bert Keeler. While they’ve now been involved in a few different shows, in different capacities, it wasn’t always that way. “My husband Bert and I got involved with CAP Theatre when our then nine-year-old daughter Alison was cast in Pirates of Penzance Jr.” says Jen. “She had tried out several times prior and was ecstatic to finally make it into a show. She had a great time, and we both enjoyed our time as volunteer set painters and ushers.”
“She has since been cast in Guys and Dolls, Jr., Annie Jr., and Seussical the Musical Jr. at CAP, and a small role in Ankeny Community Theatre’s Studio Series production of The Velveteen Rabbit. After getting more involved with set building and painting over Guys and Dolls and Annie, Bert and I agreed to help as producers for Seussical last fall at CAP. It is A LOT more work than just dropping off an actor and walking away, but it is very rewarding to see the show evolve and to see everything come together too.”
“Every show our daughter has been involved in at CAP has had 28 actors, with the exception of Pirates which had a whopping 32. CAP works to be ‘a theatre for children, by children’ so it makes sense that they expose as many kids to theatre as they can. I can’t speak for everyone, but with our daughter, she keeps going back because she loves the friendships she has developed with the other actors and she enjoys singing and performing on stage. She loves that she has learned so much about theatre too.”
High on a Hill
Director Naima Nicholson is the person who gets to wrangle all these youths, and channel their energy and creativity into The Sound of Music. “CAP deliberately chooses large shows,” she says. “We have a large turnout for most of our auditions and we want to give as many young actors an opportunity to perform as we are able. We are a teaching theatre company - we give children the chance to start spreading their performance wings young so that they may become better actors as they grow.”
“The turnout for The Sound of Music was one of the largest in CAP’s history. We had 89 children audition for the show. On average the cast is about two thirds returning performers and one third new to CAP. I think what typically brings children back is that we create an atmosphere where children can grow, explore, play, create, and have the chance to be leaders. A place where they are free to express themselves and make new friends.”
As CAP is primarily a teaching organization, they also adjust their material a bit to fit their student actors. You may have noticed the number of “Jr.” appellations on the titles of productions CAP has performed in the past. And while The Sound of Music may not have “Jr.” after its name, this “Getting to Know” version has also been slightly adapted for the younger cast.
Naima tells us what’s different about doing a “Jr.” show. “In a junior version, various elements of the production are modified for younger performers. This can include length of production (shorter), omitting or simplifying certain musical numbers, simplifying dialogue, slight changes in plot, and/or omitting certain more adult themes. For example, in the Junior version of Into the Woods, the second act of the original musical is omitted entirely, and the show ends on the positive note of everyone getting their wish.”
“In our version of The Sound of Music, the music has been shortened in most of the songs, and a couple have been omitted. That being said, the meat of the music is still very much a part of the show and I don’t think many people will miss the 2 songs omitted for this production. One change in the show that some people may be surprised about is that Elsa, the Captain’s initial love interest, is not in the production.”
“Another difference between our production [compared with the original] is that some of the musical numbers are in different places in the story. For example, My Favorite Things is not performed during the thunderstorm, but sung between Maria and the Reverend Mother as a way to show they have a shared history, to show what they have in common beyond their life in the Abbey. The Lonely Goatherd (one of my favorite scenes in the show) is no longer performed with puppets in a puppet stage, but is now sung in the thunderstorm scene and brought to life with our actors.”
“Our production is most definitely shorter than the movie version of almost 3 hours - ours being closer to 1.5 hours. This length of show is deliberate for CAP performances, because it is children’s theatre performed BY children and FOR children.”
Learning More than Lines
CAP - Altoona takes their mission as a “teaching theatre” very seriously, and that encompasses all aspects of a show, not just education about performance and set construction. Producer Jen Keeler talks a bit about what that entails.
“They did have rehearsal time carved out to address the history and background, since we really don’t get into World War II until High School and our oldest actors are in Middle School. I know Joe Gentzler (who directed Annie) did the same with that cast with the history of New York City, and how children in orphanages were treated, etc. It helps them as actors to better understand their characters if they know a bit of history about the time period/era/feelings of the time.”
Of course, with such a large cast, there are going to be significant differences in what people might know about the history portrayed in The Sound of Music. Director Nicholson led her charges in this session. “Some of the children have come to this show with a GREAT DEAL of knowledge and love for the show, and some have come with less exposure to the musical. Knowing that some of the children might not have much, if any, knowledge about the political climate in Austria and Germany during the time span of this show, it was important to me that we have a discussion about it as a whole cast.”
“There is a line in the play about ‘Storm Troopers.’ We talked about the difference between Nazi Stormtroopers, and Star Wars Stormtroopers, and why George Lucas would have used the same name for his characters. Some of the children already had a base understanding for this, from school, and others were new to it. It was important to me that we talked about the real situation to understand the difference between fictional ‘bad guys’ and real life people who made choices to follow one ideology or another.”
Ultimately, creating The Sound of Music has become a complete theatrical and educational experience, the kind that CAP wants all of their shows to be. Entire families come together to make each production unique and special. Nicholson enjoys her chance to be a part of the group, and hopes more people will take advantage of the possibilities.
“I would just like to say how happy I am to be working with CAP. CAP does such quality productions. The group who runs CAP is dedicated to serving the youth and parents who come to the theatre. They are dedicated to teaching these children about theatre, supporting them in making wise, healthy decisions in their lives, and they really care. In January I joined the board of directors at CAP, and I am delighted to be a part of this team. I wish more people knew about CAP, and the good work that is done here.”
You can experience some of that good work when The Sound of Music opens beginning February 16 and running through March 4. Shows are at the CAP Theatre mainstage in Altoona, and tickets are available through the CAP Theatre website. Bring two non-perishable food items to donate and CAP will give you free popcorn and a drink for your donation! (And CAP will be announcing their slate of shows for next season on opening night as well!!)