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Student theatre gives a youthful perspective
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Dawson County Arts Council childrens theater organizers know they can count on young actors parents to fill audience seats. What they also want to see more of is families in the audience primarily for the great entertainment - whether loved ones are in the cast or not. Theyre thinking next weeks production of Annie Jr. will fit the bill.

Annie Jr., a condensed adaptation of the Broadway hit musical Annie, was created specifically to be performed by childrens theater groups and to be enjoyed by all ages, including younger audiences. The Arts Council is able to present this professionally scaled down version through special arrangement with New York City-based Music Theatre International.

Todays kids arent that familiar with musicals, points out Arts Council childrens theater spokesperson Colleen Green. Theyre used to fast-moving action movies and special effects. These condensed versions are designed to expose kids to musicals and show them how fun and exciting they can be.

Annie Jr. doesnt betray the basic story line of the ever-optimistic little girl who finds love and security after 11 years of mistreatment in a Depression-era New York City orphanage. It uses shorter scenes, less dialogue, fewer singing numbers, and simple and swift scene changes to address shorter attention spans and keep younger actors and audiences engaged.

Thirty-five actors from Dawson and surrounding North Georgia counties make up the cast of Annie Jr., under the direction of Nathan Gerrells. A fifth grade teacher and seasoned childrens theater director, Gerrells draws the best out of his charges, who range in age from 6 to 17 years old. Rehearsals are structured and on-task, while at the same time fun and low-pressure. Older teens help younger kids learn their lines and provide prompts when the occasional line is forgotten.

Gerrells has directed several childrens theatre productions and has been leading the award winning Dawson County Competition Team for the past three years. Andrew Snider, a theater major with a degree from Kennesaw State University, is assistant director. Heather Nelson, a film and stage actress who recently appeared on the BET network show, Reed Between the Lines, is choreographer for the Annie Jr. production.

Working with the kids is an amazing experience, Gerrells says. I am clear about what I expect, but I dont pressure them. Theyre here to have fun. Most of them are highly self-motivated and eager to give their best effort.

The Dawson County Arts Councils childrens theater gives kids a fun and supportive place to develop their talents. Gerrells sees additional benefits for young actors, like experience with teamwork and public speaking. He says acting can be a great confidence builder for kids.

Annie Jr. will be presented at Riverview Middle School at 7 p.m. Nov. 10, 11 and 12, with a 3 p.m. matinee Nov. 13. Tickets ($10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and DCAC members and $5 for students) can be purchased in advance at Steamers Coffee Shop or the Bowen Center for the Arts in person or by calling 706-216-2787, or at the door 30 minutes prior to the show.