WHALLONSBURG - The Boquet River Theatre Festival kicks off its summer season this weekend with a big rendition celebrating childhood.
"Alice in Wonderland Jr." hits the stage of the Whallonsburg Grange Hall Aug. 7 and 8, featuring 31 young actors in the fairy-tale musical, the largest cast ever for a BRTF show.
The cast of 8- to 12-year-olds from Essex, Willsboro, Westport, Elizabethtown, Wadhams and Lewis, also includes summer friends from New York City, southern New England and Washington, D.C.
Youth directors Dale Mason and Alyssa Carroll teamed up to work with the young cast, bringing their unique skills as veterans of BRTF, having started acting themselves at ages 8 and 9.
"I remember my first day and how it felt not knowing anyone except Katrina Fink, who's a counselor here now, too," said Alyssa, who has logged 12 years with BRTF. "This program introduced me to a whole new world of theatre, and I made friends immediately because everyone was interested and passionate about what I was interested in."
Dale has performed and worked with BRTF for six years.
"The theatre began as an adult-run production for kids; then we established two shows, one for youth and one for teens; and now it has evolved to teens directing younger kids," he explained. "I think we have a lot of sympathy for the directors we've had."
Beyond music, dance and acting, Carroll said rehearsing the show builds both patience and confidence in young people.
"Working on the show, we watch as their focus reigns in. The actors begin to see how, when they're patient, they can accomplish much more than if they just jumped in without a little work."
Carroll and Mason have been working alongside choreographer Jackie Robertin and musical director Gigi Carroll to bring the performance to the stage with technical direction by Jim Carroll.
The young actors are very excited, as rehearsals finish up this week. Nine-year-old Lizzie Stephens of Essex, already a third year BRTF veteran, said she loves the directors the most.
"And the dancing! Yeah," she said.
For Payton Gough, Alice is a third season of acting, singing and learning performance arts with BRTF.
"I love it that we get to hang out with friends and see each other while we rehearse," Gough said. "I'm really excited for Alice in Wonderland's opening night."
Griffin Wilkins, a 9-year-old with BRTF, said honing his acting skills is a thrill alongside his work in dance.
"It's coming really well," Griffin said before the final week of rehearsal. "It could really be a crowd pleaser."
BRTF is also rehearsing Guys and Dolls with the older cast of teen actors to open in another week; the second show of what is now the group's 18th season.
BRTF board president Ed Mason said as the seasons grow, so does the show.
"We also have completely redesigned our Web site www.brtf.com, which provide a greater audience the ability to literally see what BRTF is all about," he said.
The site also provides a means of contributing to the nonprofit theatre troupe. Patrons can make donations or order tickets electronically through an automated system.
"Given the economic challenges, we are always looking for monetary support which enables us maintain tuition and ticket prices, which for the fourth year in a row have not increased," Ed noted. "I can assure you, as in past years, our venue of the Whallonsburg Grange Hall will be exploding at the seams with captive audiences."
"As a board, we are very excited about our shows this summer and look forward to seeing much of the community enjoy the talent, hard work, and passion of the youth in our great community and beyond."
Showtimes are Saturday ,Aug. 7, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 8, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children and seniors and may be purchased on-line or by calling 932-5726. Tickets are also available at the door, but reservations are recommended as space is limited.