Story By Jo Ann Mathews
Photography By Kristin Goode

Brunswick Little Theatre reaches out to children with workshops and summer camps designed to help them gain confidence on the stage.

About 20 children jump, dance and run in a circle to a selection from “High School Musical” but freeze like icicles on eaves when the music stops.

“Now I want those wearing socks to be opposed to those in bare feet,” teacher Jen Iapalucci instructs at On My Toes Dance Studio in Southport. She starts the music, and the children check each other’s feet then dart back and forth before forming irregular lines. When the music stops, the children do as well.

Iapalucci continues various games for ten minutes before having the children sit and form a circle.

“What is characterization?” she asks, and the meat of Let’s PLAY begins.

This program is the latest offering at Brunswick Little Theatre (BLT), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Iapalucci introduced the 12-week Sunday afternoon workshop in February for those ages 4 through 12 years because she saw how enthusiastic her son Max, 8, has been about appearing in BLT productions since he was 3 years old.

“He got the acting bug, and there’s not much for his age group,” says the Boiling Spring Lakes resident.

It isn’t surprising. Iapalucci and her husband, Adrian, an attorney, are both theater enthusiasts and have been in plays. Other Brunswick County residents share their fervor. Within three hours of posting the $50 workshop on the BLT Facebook page, 20 students had registered.

Sherry Troscianiec of Boiling Spring Lakes says when she told her son Cameron, 9, about the class, he said, “That sounds like a lot of fun.”

Ann Patterson, also of Boiling Spring Lakes, says her son Alexander, 9, likes to sing and perform and he’s having a good time in the workshop.

“I want to have my own production company and make movies,” Alexander adds.

Iapalucci keeps the children active throughout the two-hour lesson and provides valuable information as well.

“The audience is not coming to see you,” she tells them. “They are coming to see the character you’re playing.”

To demonstrate she produces a red ukulele and asks the students what characteristics a person who owns the instrument would have.

“Make up a character,” Iapalucci says. “You have to be the character. Who would this belong to? What could it mean to someone? What would the person say about the object?”

The class is then prepared for the “mystery bag” segment of the lesson. Students had brought an item from home that they really love or really hate in a paper bag and hadn’t told other students what was in it. In the game, they pick a bag that’s not their own and decide what kind of person — what character — would own the article. A lunch box, a pair of ballet slippers and a stuffed panda bear inside a purse are a few of the objects the children had brought.

On his turn, Max transitions to a “character.” He unfolds a map of Pittsburgh and tells the students he has a treasure map that leads to pirate’s gold. Students deluge him with questions about how a pirate on a ship gets to a treasure in the Keystone State. When it appears he has hit a roadblock, he begins to sing “It’s a Small World,” thus putting an end to the questions and his time in the spotlight.

The children enjoy all the stories.

“I love dancing and I love singing, too,” says Sophia Ordonez, 10, of Southport. “I like being on the stage, so this class is fun.”

“It’s fun and exciting,” says R. J. Thomas, 12, of Bolivia. “There’s always something going on.”

“I emphasize ‘play,’” Iapalucci says. “We play a lot, but we do concentrate on theater.”

Iapalucci is following Debbie Skillman’s lead at BLT. Skillman, a BLT associate since its inception in 1983 and retired Brunswick County Schools’ music teacher, started Stagestruck Players 10 years ago for those ages 8 through 18. She devised the name for the division because “I want them to be stage struck,” she says. “I want them to be in love with the theater.”

Iapalucci agrees.

“The desire to be there is important,” she says. “I can teach kids to dance and to sing, but I can’t teach a kid to love it.”

Skillman explains that she wants the students to have the opportunity to take on fleshed-out roles.

“These are actors,” she says. “I enjoy coaching the children and helping them build their skills and confidence.”

Gareth Jesina, 16, of Bolivia says he joined Stagestruck Players about seven years ago.

“I like the sense of community,” he says. “The people are fun and easy to get along with.”

Hannah Caison of Supply says she was 9 when she told her mother she’d like to get into acting.

“I like the opportunity to act in a mature setting with quality shows,” she says. “Debbie doesn’t treat us like kids. I love all the people and making friendships.”

Jacob Chabra, 15, of Southport says he’s always been interested in theater, so when his mother saw the notice in 2008 of auditions for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” he tried out and made the cast.

“Once you get into [Stagestruck Players] it’s like a close-knit family,” he says. “Everyone is nice. It’s like a home away from home.”

Each year Stagestruck Players has a production, the most recent of which was “Dorothy Meets Alice.”

The children in Let’s PLAY prepared their own skits and put on their first production on May 5. “Beauty and the Beast,” BLT’s summer production, offers youth another opportunity to perform.

Iapalucci says she wants the children to be comfortable, so she makes them feel safe but encourages them to take a risk or two. For instance, she’ll ask them to sing or to dance.

“I never want to hear ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I feel stupid,’” she says.

And it’s working. Let’s PLAY is building confidence in all of her students.

Upcoming Brunswick Little Theatre Performances

Beauty and the Beast
7:30 pm on July 26 and 27 and August 2 and 3
3 pm on July 28 and August 4
Odell Williamson Auditorium
50 College Road NW off U.S. 17, Bolivia
Tickets cost $17 for adults; $12 for ages 13 and above, including college students with ID; $6 for ages 12 and younger.

39 Steps
7:30 pm on October 4, 5, 11 and 12
3 pm on October 6 and 13
Amuzu Theatre
111 N. Howe St., Downtown Southport
Prices same as above

Brunswick Little Theatre
(910) 278-6581

Let’s PLAY Summer Camp
The success of Let’s PLAY prompted Iapalucci to develop a summer camp program for children.
To inquire about future summer camps for ages 4 to 12, contact Jen Iapalucci at .