Youngsters build confidence by participating in Queen Creek theater programs

The young cast of nearly 75 of “Aladdin,” a family-theater musical production at Queen Creek Performing Arts Center, features students from school districts serving Queen Creek, San Tan Valley and other communities in the far east Valley. Based on the Disney movie of the same name, the play will be performed Nov. 13-16. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

The young cast of nearly 75 of “Aladdin,” a family-theater musical production at Queen Creek Performing Arts Center, features students from school districts serving Queen Creek, San Tan Valley and other communities in the far east Valley. Based on the Disney movie of the same name, the play will be performed Nov. 13-16. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)


Caden Marshall likes acting because he says on stage is one of the few places where students are encouraged to be “big.”

“At school you don’t get to be big. On stage, you get to express yourself by being big, larger than life sometimes,” the Queen Creek High School sophomore said during a break from rehearsing for the Queen Creek Performing Art Center’s production of “Aladdin.”

Caden has been cast as the Genie in the musical stage production of the 1992 Disney animated film of the same name. The role was voiced in the film by the late actor Robin Williams and earned a 2014 Tony Award for James Monroe Iglehart in the Broadway production, but 15-year-old Caden has been working on ways to make the wise-cracking magic man his own.

“Genie’s song ‘Friend Like Me’ has always been one of my favorites,” he said. “I love doing different voices and I’m working them in throughout the number.”

Can he tell when his acting is too over-the-top?

“When no one laughs at something I think is funny, that’s when I know I may need to tone it down,” he said.

“Aladdin” is one of two plays produced this fall as part of the center’s Family Theatre series, which gives area youth like Caden experience in learning how to act big or small on stage — depending on the demands of the role — or behind the scenes, QCPAC Director Molly Jacobs said during an interview.

“(We) know how important the arts are to all kids and want to raise a strong community and citizens for the future,” Ms. Jacobs said. “I love seeing the growth and the success these children work for. It is a gift to me when I see a face really understand something and start to feel empowered.”

The first play of the 2015-16 season is “Once Upon Crime,” a comedy in which story-book character Goldilocks is on trial for breaking and entering the home of the three bears.

It has a cast of 22 kids (see cast list below), with a backstage crew of seven and about 12 people from the center’s In the Wings volunteer group who handle props, costumes and other behind-the-scenes duties, Ms. Jacobs said. It will be performed Oct. 23-26.

“Aladdin” will take center stage Nov. 13-16, according to the center’s website.

It has a cast of about 75 (see cast list below) with about 10 backstage crew members and another 30 volunteers to handle props, sets and costumes, Ms. Jacobs said.

Molly Jacobs, director of the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center, strikes a pose for her young cast to follow as part of the choreography for the “Arabian Nights” musical number in “Aladdin.” One cast member commented the move resembled a scorpion preparing to strike. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

Molly Jacobs, director of the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center, strikes a pose for her young cast to follow as part of the choreography for the “Arabian Nights” musical number in “Aladdin.” One cast member commented the move resembled a scorpion preparing to strike. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)


More than 200 children from Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Mesa and other surrounding communities auditioned for the plays in August, according to the center’s Facebook page.

The center is Ms. Jacobs’ brainchild. After moving to Queen Creek in 2002, the former actress contacted the Queen Creek Unified School District to discuss building an arts center. Since opening in October of 2003 on the campus of Queen Creek High School, 22149 E. Ocotillo Road, the award-winning center has hosted more than 2,500 events — including professional entertainers and Broadway-quality theater as part of its Centerstage Series — and has seen more than one million patrons pass through its doors, according to its website.

About 106,400 patrons attended events during the 2014-15 season, Ms. Jacobs said.

The center also will offer two weeklong theater camps for kids ages 5-12 that coincide with the Queen Creek Unified School District’s fall break, Ms. Jacobs said.

The first will take place Monday, Sept. 28-Friday, Oct. 2, when campers will take part in a production of “Under the Big Top.” They will perform the show at the end of the week.

The second camp will take place Monday, Oct. 5-Friday, Oct. 9. Campers will learn the play “Brothers Grimm,” during which two narrators and several actors attempt to combine all 209 Grimm fairy tales. The campers will perform the show at the end of the week.

“The focus is to give the campers a well-rounded theater experience but it’s more than that,” Ms. Jacobs said. “It’s about the process, working with other kids, how to react off them. We have some stage combat, and costuming is always the most fun.”

Ms. Jacobs said the center has been fortunate to have sold out its last two camps.

“To keep this a fun, quality experience we limit our camp number of 50, and the center has a one instructor to 10 students ratio, plus we have assistants,” Ms. Jacobs said.

Assistants include campers who are now too old for the program but love it and want to help, Ms. Jacobs said. A former assistant is now working full-time alongside the center director.

Brittney Thomas discovered during one of the camps that she liked performing, she said during an interview.

She moved on to become a volunteer teacher at the camps, where she said she learned the joys of watching the young campers experience the different aspects of theater.

She said she passes on the techniques and attitudes she learned during her own camp experiences to the theater newcomers.

“It’s all about respect,” she said. “You are never doing a scene for yourself. You are doing it for the person you’re in the scene with. You should never be selfish and should do everything for your scene partner.”

She acted in a camp version of “High School Musical,” a Family Theatre production of “Seussical the Musical” and a Queen Creek High School theater department production of “Aladdin.”

After graduating Queen Creek High in 2011, she attended Grand Canyon University where she studied theater. She interned for a summer at the center while attending GCU.

After graduating in 2015 with a fine arts degree, she began job-hunting. Ms. Jacobs offered her a full-time position at the center overseeing the volunteers, and she began her new job in May, she said.

Ms. Thomas said she enjoys watching the kids grow as people and performers.

“It’s so much fun. For a lot of the kids it’s their first time in a theater, just like it was mine, and I get to see them love something new and develop new confidence,” Ms. Thomas said.

At ages 9 and 10, respectively, friends Wyatt Goodwin and Charley Littleton already display confidence and enthusiasm. The kids, who became friends because their older brothers hung out so often, they said, began their stage careers at ages 7 and 8, respectively, in the center’s production of “101 Dalmatians.” Wyatt had one line as the character Spot, while Charley, who is a girl, sang as part of the “sassy Dalmatian” group, she said.

They’ve gone on to appear in the center’s productions of “The Aristocats,” “High School Musical” and now “Aladdin.”

Charley said she loves the way Ms. Jacobs — who the kids call “Miss Molly” — directs them in singing and dancing.

“She shows us a couple of times and there are sometimes some really fun moves to do,” Charley said. “We can pick up the moves pretty quickly.”

Wyatt likes singing.

“It’s fun to do, I like using my voice,” he said, adding he likes to sing along with the songs on the radio.
Wyatt, who enjoys all the vocal highs and lows in “Aladdin,” said he would like to be an actor who sings.

Performing in Family Theatre productions provides Victoria Bangerter with a much-needed sense of normalcy and acceptance.

The 12-year-old San Tan Valley girl suffers from a medical condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Individuals with EDS have a genetic defect in their connective tissue, the tissue that provides support to many body parts such as the skin, muscles and ligaments, her mother, Marleen Smouse, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Victoria must wear braces to stabilize her loose and unstable finger and ankle joints, and was bullied so often at school, Mrs. Smouse said during an interview, that she decided it was better for Victoria to be home-schooled.

In the theater, Victoria says she’s just another kid.

“At school, I was judged. When I come here (to the center), I’m happy. Everyone here is nice. We sing, we dance, we wear amazing costumes,” she said during an interview.

She said she likes acting because she gets to be a different person with each role. She has appeared in many plays at the center, including “Aladdin,” “The Wiz,” “Glee” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

She also has appeared in some feature films, including “A Horse for Summer,” an independent movie that was filmed in part in San Tan Valley, she said.

Participating in the theatrical productions has been as physically beneficial for Victoria as they have been psychologically uplifting, her mother said.

“It’s really good for her to be active,” Mrs. Smouse said during an interview. “She’s in physical therapy two times a week and the extra activity here is good to help keep Victoria out of a wheelchair.”

“When you’re in a show, you’re in a family. Everyone has the common goal of putting on a show.” Ms. Jacob said. “Kids who are super quiet or super gregarious — everyone fits in theater.”

Space is still available for the fall break camps. Registration for the weeklong camp is $125 for the first child and $100 for each sibling.

To register, visit the center’s website and click on Camps and Classes.

To purchase tickets for “Aladdin” or “Once Upon A Crime,” visit the website and click on Family Theatre or call the box office at 480-987-7469.

The cost for either show is $15 for adults and $13 for children, including the ticketing charge.

The box office hours are generally 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

Hours can vary so the center recommends calling before visiting the box office.

The following are cast lists for upcoming Family Theatre productions at Queen Creek Performing Arts Center, 22149 E. Ocotillo Road.  For more information, visit the center’s website or call 480-987-7469.

“Once Upon A Crime” cast list

Role                     Cast
Goldilocks          Emily Gerhart
Tom Thumb      Oliver Burghart
Thumbelina       Veronica Burghart
Hansel                 Kyle Gerhart
Gretel                 Quincy Walker
Papa Bear          Justus Popken
Momma Bear    Alexa Conover
Baby Bear          Ryan Lucas
Judge Farmer    Brianna Murray
Henny Penny     Katelyn Jensen
The Cow             Mariella Murillo
The Cow (Imposter) Annabelle Skala
Bailiff 1                Madelynn Atkinson
Bailiff 2               Danika Kussy
Jack                     Bradley Farnsworth
The Wolf             Logan Bowen
Granny               Mea Gibbens
Little Red           Ashlyn Conover
Bird 1                 Kembri Conover
Bird 2                Perry Wiggins
Bird 3                Kayla Rowley
Witch                 Elyzabeth Bangerter

“Aladdin” cast list

Role                    Cast
Aladdin              Dylan Royston
Jasmine             Delaney Starks
Genie                 Caden Marshall
Jafar                   Ben Thornburg
Iago                    Jake Capriotti
Razoul               Jacob Brabender
Rug                    Lacie Conover
Narrator 1        Ally Jacobs
Narrator 2        Eliza Hagen
Narrator 3        Anna Tabot
Narrator 4       Macey Clausen
Narrator 5        Camilla Hagen
Sultan                Daniel Albert
Prince 1             Carson Greer
Prince 2            Shadrach Ludlow
Prince 3            Hugh Hocknull
Abu                   Gregor Hocknull
Matron             Victoria Bangerter
Girl                   Brinkley Biddulph
Baker               Reagan Metz
Butcher            Duncan Goodman
Grocer              Natalie Bria
Guard 1            Jace Bright
Guard 2           Reed Shepard
Harem Girls: Tapanga Ludlow, Hayley Foster, Autumn Kelleher, Alyssa O’Brien, Libby Brown, Karissa Cook, Meredith Albert, Hope Niven and Cheyenne Dossey.
Mini Harem Girls: Nadia Jocson, Olivia Slade, Alexis Norlin, Elli Baker, Riley Nally, Colette Davis and Sarah Skocypec.
Guards: Patrick Duffy, Blue Shepherd, Maxwell Christensen, Josh Williams, Scott Hagen, Carson Greer, Shadrach Ludlow, Nicholas Philips and Hugh Hocknull.
Children’s ensemble: Ashalia Velasco, Mylie Critchlow, Chloe Foster, Kate Foster, Lacey Allen, Brooke Anundson, Naomi Tabot, Brianna Jarman, Rachel Hale, Kaitlyn Hale, Charley Littleton, Wyatt Goodwin, Thatcher Ganes, Christopher Hagen, Christopher Capriotti, Vincent Farley, Lynden Jarman and William Jarman.
Townspeople: Brookly Gardner, Kelsey Cook, Kimber Williams, Britlyn Hawkins, Lilla Brandt, Sage Skaar, Allyson Harding, Maddi George, Soleil Woodward, Jovana Bright, Jared Dicino, Kyle Atkinson, Shaye Duncan, Kennedy Jones, Madison Lundstrom, Justine Bria, Tatum Brown, Mikayla Moore, Eden Lindley, Giovana Marquez, Isabel Willis, Leah Pottenger and Taylor Fuller.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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