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By BECCA OWSLEY
firstname.lastname@example.org RADCLIFF — The 37th season of the Youth Theatre of Hardin County will present a tale as old as time in a lavish production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
A Gothic set with staircases, balconies, columns and archways fills the deep stage at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School. The production has the scope of the Broadway stage as dancing furniture and dishes come to life in the enchanted castle.
Although the troupe used rigging to fly in “Peter Pan,” its first production at the PAC, this year everything — from the staging to the costumes — is more elaborate.
“The community won’t realize how professional it is until they see it,” said Betty Marsee, Youth Theatre president.
Moving to the PAC several years ago has expanded what the company has been able to do with the Youth Theatre program. For several years, it performed in Central Hardin High School's commons area and had to build the stage. Nothing elaborate could be done in those surroundings.
Then the group moved to the stage at T.K. Stone Middle School, which had no backstage dressing room. Now, the company can do high flying special effects and enhance the program by working on a professional stage.
There are many elaborate costumes for the cast of 50. Costume designer Cherie Mingus estimated 70 to 80 costumes for the production as she finished stuffing the sugar bowl costume, adding a swimming noodle, to help the costume keep its shape.
Some costumes have been made, such as the cakes and cheese grader costumes, and the rest have been adjusted from costumes rented from a Chattanooga theater company.
While many of the cast members are new to the stage, there are some veterans like Caitlyn Wimsatt, 18, who has been with the program for seven years and is playing her first lead role as Belle.
“Being Belle is probably the biggest part of my life,” Wimsatt said. “I love it. It’s frustrating at times, but once you get out on stage it is totally worth it.”
Wimsatt has been told the role is perfect for her.
“I’m just like Belle, the oddball bookworm that is dreamy and knows what she wants in life,” Wimsatt said. "People think she’s odd but she really doesn’t care.”
She added that she shares an independent streak with the character as well.
Wimsatt plans on doing some plays when she attends Berea College in the fall. She plans on majoring in education with a double minor in drama and history so she can teach drama or arts and humanities.
“I love acting in general,” she said. “It’s a place I can come and be with friends and express myself and not have to worry about what other people are thinking. It’s like my second family.”
Fourteen-year-olds Richard Shufelt and Ashley Featherstone have not been in as many productions as Wimsatt, but both are looking forward to their roles.
Shufelt plays Monsieur D’ Arque and is looking forward to the dark purple costume with spider webs on the side that he gets to wear, along with a mask that makes him look much older.
“I like to dance, that’s what I really liked to do, and act," Shufelt said. “I’ve always liked acting.”
Featherstone is the enchanted wardrobe that befriends Belle in the castle.
She said she gets to stand on stage in a big box the entire show.
“It’s the best costume I have ever had,” Featherstone said. “People will think that it is just a little kid thing that we are doing with just middle schoolers and high schoolers who really don’t know what they are doing, but we have real sets, real costumes. We’re the real deal.”
She hopes to be on to Broadway some day and already has enjoyed her two years with the program.
“Youth Theatre is really fun,” Featherstone said. “It’s my life.”
Blake Ryan, 17, plays the Beast. In his fifth production, it is the biggest role he has played so far.
“I like the people that you get to meet — there are different shapes, different sizes and different ages,” Ryan said. “You get to meet with people and sometimes you get people who don’t know what to do and you get to teach them — they are watching you or watching the show and they are like an audience member that gets to come out and just have fun with it.”
Ryan describes his role as a man who gets transformed into a beast because he is unkind to people and has to learn to find love within himself before he can love others.
“He winds up trying to be mean to people all around him until one day a girl comes by and he tries to be mean to her at first and he changes and he starts to fall in love with her," Ryan said. “He wants her to fall in love with him so he can break the spell.”
The excitement the kids like Ryan show for their roles and performances is a big reason why Youth Theatre has been successful, Marsee said.
“One reason we stay with it is the dedicated young people,” she said. “It is such a thrill to see how hard they work and what they accomplish, we just really enjoy working with them.” IF YOU GO The Youth Theatre of Hardin County invites theatergoers to be its guests for performances of “Disney's Beauty and the Beast” at Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School. Shows will be 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, and 7 p.m. July 18 and 19. There will be a dinner theater at 5 p.m. July 17 with the performance to follow at 7 p.m. Ticket prices for the shows are $10 for adults and $5 for kids age 12 and younger. Dinner theater tickets are $25. Contact Bill and Betty Marsee at (270) 765-5421 for more information.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.