J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth has been a frequent setting for productions since the Oscar-winning films revived the “Lord of the Rings.” This phenomenon recently hit Columbia in a live showing of “The Hobbit.”
Underneath the dwarf and hobbit costumes were children from third to seventh grade helping unveil a new youth theater company in Columbia called Performing Arts in Children’s Education, or PACE. “The Hobbit,” which was the group’s first production, debuted the weekend of May 1 at Smithton Middle School.
“The show was wonderful, marvelous, staggering; I’m just thrilled and very proud of these kids,” said Angela Howard, a co-artistic director of PACE, after the opening night. “The kids really needed an audience. You could feel the energy level shoot up as people responded to them, and that is what theater is all about.”
The audience, a mix of parents, children and community members, reacted to the subtle humor and smooth flow of the show. The young actors kept a confident rapport between lines and scenes, and the atmosphere was charged with excitement and eagerness. Support and confidence behind every actor appeared universal, which could stem from the fact that each role was double-cast, which means two actors were assigned to each role and the actors switch off every night.
“Double-casting is better because it takes pressure off the kids,” said Stephanie Logan, president of the PACE board. “No one says ‘I’m the star.’ It forces everyone to work as a team, and everyone knows that they aren’t alone.”
Classes and rehearsal for the opening season of PACE began in January. The group offers classes for preschoolers through high-schoolers during fall, spring and summer semesters.
Deborah Baldwin, co-artistic director, spoke of the fast pace of the group before she and Howard cut the Columbia Chamber of Commerce gold ribbon to initiate the program into the city’s list of organizations.
“A little more than four months ago this was just an idea,” she said. “All that we’ve already accomplished says a lot about what this company can do.”
After the production, students and parents were excited about the show, PACE and acting.
“It’s a hoot, the whole actor thing,” said David Salmo, a seventh-grader. “The hardest part is trying not to laugh during the funny parts.”
Stephanie Kravitz, another seventh-grader in “The Hobbit,” said leaving the show will be the most difficult part in this program.
“Making new friends has been my favorite part about this,” she said. “Up on stage, though, the cheering is the best. It’s so exhilarating when you first get on stage and see all the people.”
Third-grader Samuel Phillips also likes the friends from PACE classes, but said acting isn’t all fun.
“Practicing over and over again is sometimes hard,” he said.
Parents thought the kids put on a great show and were happy with the results both on and off stage.
“Acting teaches a lot of poise and self-confidence,” said Karla Rugh, who had two children in the play and also helped with costumes. “It helps them handle other aspects of their life well — whenever they are nervous about something, I just remind them about how they perform in front of 300 to 400 people.”
John Berkenbosch said he loved watching his third-grade son, Seth, on stage.
“He had so much fun,” Berkenbosch said. “This was his first crack at acting, and I think he discovered skills he didn’t know he had.”
PACE will have summer camps in June and production classes throughout the summer months. PACE will have two shows during the summer: “Oklahoma!” at the end of July and “The Wizard of Oz” in the beginning of August. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at pace.missouri.org.