This summer, 90 young actors and the young audiences who come to watch them can get a little something out of two musicals, “High School Musical” and “Seussical,” showing at the TRYPS Children’s Theater.
“Seussical” is a musical based on a number of Dr. Seuss’ books, including “Gertrude McFuzz” and “Horton Hears a Who!” The production’s main character is Horton, an elephant whose life becomes a little more interesting after meeting inhabitants of the smallest planet in the universe, the Whos.
“High School Musical” follows the lives of studious Gabriella and Troy, a high school basketball star. At first, their difference in interests gives them no reason to cross paths. However, something leads to a blossoming friendship, and criticizing eyes are watching them.
Jill Womack, executive artistic director of TRYPS, which stands for Theater Reaching Young People and Schools, said seeing actors their age on stage seems to inspire children who come to watch the performances.
“The young actors are performing for their peers and setting examples for young audiences,” Womack said. “The children in the audience can say, ‘Gosh, I can do that, too,’ or they realize that kids their own age are doing it.”
Plays such as “The Wizard of Oz,” which TRYPS will put on next summer, and “High School Musical” also send messages to young viewers that Womack thinks serve as life lessons.
“They watch ‘Wizard of Oz’ and learn that there’s really no place like home, and not to take people you love for granted,” Womack said. “The message with ‘High School Musical’ is we’re all in this together. We’re all people and we all want the same things: to have friends and be good people.”
Womack said children and adults come from as far away as Moberly and Jefferson City to watch the TRYPS performances, and she thinks there’s no better audience than young children. “In ‘Narnia,’ (which TRYPS did last November), Aslan points out to Peter in the distance to look at a castle, and all the kids in the audience turn to look,” Womack said. “Actors look at kids in the audience, and the kids talk back. You can’t ask for a better audience than that.”
On stage, the fruits of participation can be lasting. Fifteen-year-old Shelby Ringdahl, who has been a part of TRYPS for the past five years, said that being one of the older people in the productions means she has to be a leader and set an example.
Then there’s self-confidence.
“You have to sing or dance by yourself in front of 300 to 400 people, and it’s nerve-wracking,” Shelby said. “But once you overcome that, it’s a good feeling of being able to do it.”
Womack said the intensity of being in a production is a lesson, too.
“They’re learning to practice at home and be self-disciplined,” she said. “A lot of people think theater is easy and not a lot of work, but it’s very labor-intensive, and it takes a lot of perseverance, and I’m impressed with how these kids present themselves.”