COLUMBIA — The musical "Once on This Island," which Hickman High School is performing for the first time this weekend, is the story of Ti Moune, an orphaned peasant girl who lives on an island in the French Antilles.
A wall separates her poor side of the island from the wealthy side.
What: "Once on This Island" is a musical based loosely on "The Little Mermaid," but it more closely follows Rosa Guy's book, "My Love, My Love, or the Peasant Girl." Directed by Sarah Gerling.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Where: Hickman High School, 1104 N. Providence Road.
Tickets: $7 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens; available at the door or in advance at the school's Fine Arts Office, open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., call 214-3005.
When the collective wish of four gods causes Ti Moune to meet Daniel, a boy from the wealthy side, they fall in love. Ti Moune follows him back to the wealthy world, and the two struggle to be together.
But Ti Moune and Daniel's fictional struggles aren't the only ones for this "Once on This Island" production. Cast members have a few real-life challenges of their own.
Managing stage fright
Courtney Clark, 17, is the assistant stage manager for the musical. At dress rehearsal last week, she held the master book at the front of the stage and sang along as her peers practiced.
Clark has been in three plays at Hickman but has never auditioned for any onstage roles in a musical. It's not because she can't sing: Clark has stage fright.
"My very first show that I was in, in first or second grade, I got a lead in a musical and I didn't know I had stage fright," Clark said. "I went to sing my song and my voice was cracking, I was sweaty, my face was red, and I was so panicky I couldn't breathe."
For Clark, her stage fright applies only to her singing, and she's trying hard to overcome it. She's taking "Musical Productions II" this semester to help work through her fear.
So far, students have had to sing in front of the class twice.
"My performances, they've been OK," Clark said. "I like my voice. I just worry how other people will think I sound."
But Clark plans to try out for the next musical.
"While I love being assistant stage manager, because it really opens your eyes to the other side of the theater process, I know the bonding that happens between the cast and I miss it," Clark said.
Youngest person on stage
That bonding is something that Olivia Aufderheide has experienced first hand, and it has helped her be brave when everyone else around her is older. At age 8, Olivia is seven to eight years younger than the majority of the cast.
Olivia plays the child version of Ti Moune. Olivia's older sister, Jackie Aufderheide, 16, is one of the featured dancers.
"They were saying if anyone has little kids or friends with little kids that are available let me know," Olivia said. "Then Jackie told them how I love to dance and sing."
When Olivia showed up to audition, "Miss Robin (musical director Robin Steinhaus) took me right behind the curtains and had me sing, like, two little parts of a song and then she's, like, 'Everyone, welcome the new little Ti Moune.'"
With her new role, Olivia also found new friends and a stage family.
"The one that I call my mom here, she's not actually my mom," Olivia said. "My real mom says, 'Hi, Mom number two,' to my stage mom."
Olivia's stage mom is 17-year-old Rachel Cornell, who plays Mama Euralie.
"Ever since the first rehearsal she's called me mom, and even when her real mom's here, we both turn when she shouts, 'Mom,'" Cornell said.
Olivia goes to her when she needs something fixed, Cornell said. She even brought Cornell and Dylan Hosmer-Quint, her stage father, bracelets she had made.
This is Olivia's fourth production but her first musical, Jackie Aufderheide said.
"This is, like, her first time doing a show where I'm not next to her the whole time backstage because I'm on stage almost the whole time," Jackie Aufderheide said. "I told her, though I may not be next to you, you can look across stage and I'll be there if you get scared."
But little Ti Moune has yet to get scared.
"Sometimes I get bored, sometimes I just dance," Olivia said. "Or I go with the grownups and just sit down."
Mitchell Flottman doesn't get to sit down; he lies down. As Ti Moune's love, Daniel, he spends a large portion of the first act pretending to be a breath away from death.
"It's over the course of three different songs and two different scenes," Flottman, 17, said. "I spend a lot of time frozen."
In the story, he has had a car crash and been carried to shelter as others on stage chant, "One day gone by, and two days gone by."
"I think a lot about how well I've been doing, and I run future scenes in my head," Flottman said. "I get lots of breaks, so that's cool."
Flottman's semi-secret anxiety is that he's not the most confident dancer. The final dance scene showcases him front and center. That gave him some anxiety at first.
"I'm comfortable with singing and acting," he said. "But I'm not a dancer."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.