BRANCHBURG, NJ - Each night during the Somerset County 4-H Fair Aug. 10-12, the Clover Ensemble club will transport audiences to a world of pure imagination with its adaptation of “Willy Wonka.”
The show, which runs approximately 45 minutes, will be performed on the Prep Tent stage at 5 p.m. all three days, with a second, 7:30 p.m. performance Aug. 12.
The Clover Ensemble is Somerset County 4-H’s theater club, now in its fifth year. Its 13 members, who range in age from third grade through high school, spend the year working on all aspects of the production: costume and set design; writing an original script; acting, musical and acting direction; public relations; and prop management.
Junior leader Julia Meier, who is studying costume design at Rutgers University, directed the members in the set design.
“As leaders, we give the members guidance, but then take a step back and allow them to create and problem-solve on their own — whether it is sketching a costume, sounding out the tone of the script, calculating how to make a set that can transform easily to another scene or choreographing a musical number,” said Somerville resident Patti Verbanas, a co-leader.
This year also marks the theatrical debut of the Prep Ensemble, a theater club for children pre-K to second grade, who learn the basics of acting and storytelling. The Prep Ensemble was launched in 2015 with five members; this year, it grew to approximately 25.
The club makes the “Willy Wonka” show interactive by inviting fair guests to search for “Golden Tickets” throughout the fairgrounds prior to each performance; tickets that are discovered can be redeemed for candy at the show.
Also, after the Aug. 10 performance, audience members can visit the craft table in the Prep Tent from 6 to 8 p.m. to make candy-inspired crafts with members of the club.
Last year, the Clover Ensemble club won the Somerset County 4-H Fair Managers’ Award for Best Club Activity for its musical production “Peter Pan.”
“To our knowledge, this is the only 4-H acting club in the state,” said co-leader Ellen Parker, a Somerville resident and professional theater teacher who founded the club.
“When given guidance, responsibility, specific tasks and the freedom to use their creative instincts, young people can do amazing things that are noticed, enjoyed and appreciated. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what 4H has given me as an adult.”
The members agree. “I learned how to build my confidence, project my voice and write a play,” said Natasha Mody, a student at Bridgewater Middle School. Madeline Dietrich, of Green Brook, said she learned how to take charge while directing scene changes. “There’s a lot that goes into making a production run smoothly,” she notes.
Ashka Shah, of Raritan, served as the show’s Musical Director. “I was nervous at first but every member of the club is very nice so it was easy for me to feel like I was at home,” she said.
Throughout the year, the Clover Ensemble also engages members in using their talents to serve the community. The club has performed at a 4-H employee’s retirement party, at the Festival of Trees, Rutgers Day at Rutgers University and at the Somerset County 4-H Spring Carnival.
“Using my talents to entertain others is my favorite part of 4-H,” said Somerville resident Selina Verbanas. “I love seeing people smile.”