At Chester Middle School, a sign just outside drama teacher Martha Stanley’s door echoes the enthusiasm of her students: “Welcome!!! It’s time to create awesome pieces of theatre!”
The students’ affection for their task was obvious last week, as they warmed up by doing the Hokey Pokey and hustled to get into costume and rehearse their next show, Getting to Know … Once Upon a Mattress.
Stanley, who’s been teaching drama at Chester Middle for nine years, said she was in the play in high school. She said she switched to the Getting to Know series of musicals adapted for youth performers because she thought it was time to try something different.
“It’s a cute show,” she said, and it has a cast of about 50 children, which is a “pretty decent” percentage of Chester Middle’s student body.
The play is “basically the true story of The Princess and the Pea,” she said. The cast members weren’t familiar with the show before it was selected, she said, but they are excited about the performance now.
Katie Quada, a 12-year-old seventh grader, earned the role of Princess Winnifred – Fred, for short – in the play. Katie said her “whole family has gone through Mrs. Stanley” and she loved being involved in theater. To say she was excited when she learned she’d been cast as the female lead would be an understatement.
“I fell over,” she said. “I was in the chair at my computer and I fell off the chair.” The character is a lot of fun to play, she said, because “she’s really outgoing, she’s crazy.”
Michael Tatum, the 13-year-old eighth grader who will play Prince Dauntless, the male lead, since he’d been involved in theater since about fifth grade. Tatum is also the president of Chester middle’s Drama Club.
“I like playing things that I’m not usually,” he said. “[Dauntless is] really a mama’s boy. He’s fallen for this girl. He’s totally in love.”
Eighth grade student Devynn Whitesell, who is a lady-in-waiting and Queen Aggravain’s understudy, said she her friends had been involved in drama, so she decided to give it a try this year.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It feels like we’re just this big, messed-up family.”
The “bittersweet” part of the experience is that it’s the last performance of Chester Middle drama, Stanley said. Chester Middle’s students will be redistricted to Elizabeth Davis and Carver middle schools next year, and the building will house Thomas Dale High School’s freshmen.
In a Sunday e-mail, Stanley says she has “the best job on the planet” and a host of former students have come to give back to Chester Middle’s drama department in the last four months.
“This transition will be one of the most difficult in my life,” says Stanley, who adds that, as “a little person with multiple disabilities” she has faced many challenges in life. “I will miss my Chester Middle family more than they know!”
Katie said she was upset that she wouldn’t be able to finish middle school at Chester Middle. Devynn, 13, said the Chester Middle family would be split up, but wherever the students go, they will make a new family and “it will be great.”
“You know, when something ends, something new has to begin,” Devynn said.
The play, presented by Chester Middle’s Drama Department and dedicated to the Chester Community, the faculty and staff of Chester Middle School and past and present students, will be performed Wednesday, March 10, and Saturday, March 13, at 3 p.m., and Thursday, March 11, and Friday, March 12, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $4 in advance and $5 the day of the show. For more information, call 768-6145.