FORT KENT, Maine – More than 40 students across three school districts have been rehearsing for over three months to perform the Lionel Bart musical “Oliver,” based on the Charles Dickens novel. Their hard work will soon pay off as the play has four upcoming performances at the University of Maine at Fort Kent Fox Auditorium.
Three shows on Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 2 are set for 6:30 p.m. There will also be a 1:30 p.m. matinee performance on Dec. 2. The show runs for about two hours, and there will be an intermission between act one and two.
The show is directed by Doug Clapp, Fort Kent Community High School Theater Director. Clapp has decades of teaching experience in the St. John Valley. He’s been teaching at Fort Kent Community High School since 1998. Before that, he taught in St. Agatha for 13 years.
And for nearly that entire time, Clapp has run a theater program that includes three productions per year – a musical, a non-musical, and a one-act play that is entered into the Maine Principal Association Drama Festival.
Because “Oliver” has an orphanage scene, Clapp said they included younger students from the district’s three elementary schools. He said they did this for “Annie,” but that it doesn’t always happen for their productions.
“We got 30 elementary students between grades three and six on the production,” he said. “That changes the dynamic of rehearsals sometimes. They have a lot of energy, and they’re in two major scenes in the play. The rest of it is carried by the older actors.”
Fort Kent 11th grader Cooper Saucier, who plays Mr. Brownlow, has been in several school plays and musicals. He said his favorite role was as “Charlie,” the lead in a production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Saucier said the experience has taught him to procrastinate less, particularly when it comes to learning lines. He said he has since learned how to memorize lines faster.
“I learn best on stage when I’m up with the other characters,” he said.
Isabelle Rusnack, who is also a Fort Kent 11th grader, plays the Artful Dodger. She said she’s enjoyed working with the younger students during rehearsals for Oliver.
“It’s amazing to be in a leadership role and to guide the younger students who have been joining drama club,” she said. “And to be a positive influence on them and encourage them to continue with these extracurricular activities.”
Eli Hayes, a ninth grader at Wisdom High School in St. Agatha, said this will be his first performance.
He said he was not familiar with the source material before joining, and that his primary motivation was to see if he liked acting.
“I’m excited for the opening show,” he said. “I really can’t wait. I’m also nervous.”
Clapp said the excitement level typically rises as the permanence dates draw closer.
“As they get out of script and know where they’re supposed to move, they can start to work on character development, which is a lot more fun and exciting,” Clapp said. “And then they begin to see the play take shape, they start to get the feel and see the costumes roll in and try them on and get into character. They get more excited when it gets more tangible for them.”