KENILWORTH, NJ - When Michelle Van Steenacker began teaching at David Brearley Middle School 14 years ago there wasn't an annual play, now students look forward to one each year.
Van Steenacker, a seventh grade Language Arts teacher at the school, wanted to allow seventh and eighth grade students the chance to be involved in an extra curricular activity that would help them make friends, try something new and have fun.
Serving as the play director each year, Van Steenacker, and Joe Mills, Harding School third grade teacher and assistant director, spend their time to make the play a reality. "It's just something we like to do, we wanted to provide something for kids to do other than sports if they aren't into that; middle school is hard enough for kids trying to fit in, this gives them a chance to express themselves in another way," Van Steenacker adds.
Eighth grade student and cast member, Melanie Mangano, adds her thoughts, "It's a place where you can make memories, where you can express yourself and not be afraid of what people think about you, and the feeling after all the preparation when you perform and get an audiene to laugh is the best."
Each year the script is chosen in the early fall and then practice begins in November, everyday and some weekends, in addition to set builds and costume creations.
Choosing the script is key since every student that auditions gets a part of some sort, whether cast or crew. Van Steenacker has to find a script that has enough parts, but is also not too mature, is kid friendly, challenging and does not break the bank in terms of securing the rights to use the script.
This year Van Steenacker chose Alice in Wonderland. The book was written over 150 years ago by Lewis Carroll and the basic intepretation is that the main character Alice goes down a rabbit hole and experiences many interesting things. The book brought to life in script plays with both logic and the dream world, defined as a "fantasy" genre.
The play was chosen by the two Brearley directors because of its mass appeal but also because the characters and scripts would challenge her students. Van Steenacker adds, "I have a really strong group of student actors and I knew this play would challenge them in many ways."
The students have not only stepped up and met the challenges of learning the script and all the delivery nuances, but have also help build the set and create the costumes. The annual play is a labor of love for both directors and students alike.
Alice in Wonderland will be showing at the David Brearley Auditorium on Friday January 22 and Saturday January 23 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Here is a list of cast and crew, in alphabetical order: