Caldwell Elementary wasn’t looking to create a stage for Mulan, Jr. They wanted to create an environment.
That environment is unlike any they've created before for the Caldwell Musical, and they hope it allows them to present a performance of the Disney classic in a way the audience has never experienced.
The set pieces for this year’s musical are so large the stage had to be extended. The first few rows will be blocked off as the stage extends past the orchestral pit. As a result, the traditional overhead lighting would not work, so they created a massive backdrop, which will help create a shadowbox like feeling as the floor lighting casts 20-foot-tall shadows of the students.
The play includes a cast of 60 students, plus 10 crew members. That’s in addition to the dozens of parent volunteers who dedicated their Saturdays to creating the 120 costumes and building the elaborate set pieces, including a huge pagoda that takes up half the stage and towers above the audience.
Principal Bobby Markle said the play is a community effort, with parents recognizing the hard work their students are putting in and wanting to contribute what they can as well.
Addison Dixon, 11, who plays Mulan, thinks it will all be worth it when they perform for a packed house.
“We rehearse for about three hours a day; it’s a lot of work,” Dixon said. “It’s stressful, but I love it.”
With just days left before their first performance on Thursday, the cast and crew still were making adjustments this week and getting accustomed to the new style of lighting.
Theater teacher Derek Johnson occasionally stopped the action during rehearsal Monday to help the leads find the right posture to convey the power of a soldier or the silliness of the comic relief.
Markle said every detail is important.
“I think as a fine arts magnet school, we have an obligation to showcase an artist production at the highest quality possible,” he said. “Working with third through fifth grade comes with challenges. Working with parents, with set design, they all come with challenges, but the difference I think that separates what we do from any other school production is the quality we’re going for. What I love about Mr. Johnson is that is always the expectation and the goal.”
Markle said the months of hard work and attention to detail leads to big rewards.
“What I see is camaraderie," he said. "When you’re in the daily grind of learning your lines and blocking and choreography, you become a unit and that carries over into the classroom and the school.”
Performances of Mulan, Jr. are scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Caldwell Auditorium.
IF YOU GO:
What: Mulan, Jr.
When: 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday; 1 and 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Caldwell Auditorium, 300 S. College Ave.
*donations to Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy will be accepted