Hays Community Theatre will take the stage this weekend for its holiday performance, meaning actors and actresses were hard at work for dress rehearsals Wednesday and Thursday.
And this holiday special is extra special — all of the cast members (and most of the stage crew) — are between the ages of 7 and 14. They will offer three performances of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” today through Sunday at 12th Street Auditorium.
“This is children’s theater. I believe that the only way they’re going to learn and get better is to do it,” said Wendy Richmeier, board president of HCT and director of the holiday production. “Theater gives everybody an opportunity to belong. Not everybody is athletic. Not everybody is scholastic. This gives them a place to belong.”
The community theater group launched its children’s program last year, but organizers were blown away by the amount of community interest for the “Charlie Brown” production, she said.
A total of 65 children are involved with the production. HCT organizers wanted all of the kids who auditioned to be involved, so they created two separate casts. Each group will perform twice during the weekend.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. A fourth performance will be a private event. Tickets are available in advance at hctks.com and admission is $5 per ticket with the donation of nonperishable food items.
The holiday classic shows Charlie Brown searching for the meaning of Christmas surrounded by Lucy, Linus, Sally, Snoopy and the entire Peanuts gang. There will be singing and plenty of laughs — maybe even a few tears.
Richmeier seemed emotional as she thanked a group of students for their hard work during a Thursday dress rehearsal.
“I am so proud of you,” she said. “I’ve had so much fun with you, and I can’t believe this weekend has already come.”
Rehearsals started in late October. For some, the holiday play has been a family affair. Eli Stein, 9, was cast as Charlie Brown and will star alongside his older sister, Claudine Stein, 11, playing Snoopy.
This is Eli’s first performance with community theater, but Claudine has been involved since one of her teachers recommended it two years ago, said their mother, Rebecca Stein. Their little sister, Geralyn Stein, also will play one of the angels in the play’s Nativity scene.
“Her brother and sister have been watching (Claudine), and they wanted to try it. So this was their first one,” Rebecca said. “With Claudine, it really brought her kind of out of her shell. She enjoys it. She’s gotten a lot more confident.”
Eli said he was “surprised” when he found out he had been cast to play Charlie Brown. The family bought the classic movie after the roles were announced, and the children have watched it several times.
“I practice my lines,” Eli said, noting he is enjoying theater.
Behind the scenes, the holiday production also is giving many children a hands-on experience with stage technology and set design. Rebekah Schroeder, 12, jumped at the chance to learn how to run lights and sound for the performances. Her father, Gordon, also volunteers in that capacity with HCT.
“I want to learn everything my dad knows,” she said.