Posted on 13 December 2014.
It’s Tuesday night at the Bridgeport Stage, and Shelly McComis is barking out instructions to a group of child actors.
“You’ve got to get to where your voice can reach all the way back there – you have to be LOUD!” she says, pointing behind her to the balcony.
TAKE A BOW- Five members of the Children’s Theater pose on the Bridgeport Stage. From left, they are: Laramie Dearing, Kreece Dearing, Kaitlynn Smith, Madalynn Fagan and Clayton Smith. They will all be starring in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” tonight and Sunday in Bridgeport. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
Some younger actresses, no more than 8 years old, come to her for advice on reading their lines.
“Just follow along,” she tells them. “Remember in your head what’s going on – make sure you know what’s happening before you go on stage.”
The role of show-runner is one McComis has been playing since October, when rehearsals for the Chlldren’s Theater Group adaptation of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” began. McComis, Debra Underwood and Sherri Jones are directing the play, which starts its two-night run tonight with one show at 6:30 p.m. and another show at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The musical comedy focuses on six delinquent children who start going to the local church for the free donuts at Sunday school but soon get roped into participating in the annual Christmas pageant. It has a cast of 27 actors on stage and 12 in an “angel choir” in the balcony, as well as some light and sound crew members.
The actors range in age from 6 to 18 and hail from all over Wise County. The diversity of ages and cities represented on stage is part of what made working on the play so fun, McComis said.
“They’re really from all over. And these kids, they love drama, so it’s fun to give them an avenue of something that they’re excited about,” she said. “The age difference is funny, too. We have little bitty ones who have never been on stage before, and then there’s high school kids who have been in several [productions]. It’s a nice mix.”
One of those high schoolers with acting experience is Casey Jones, a Bridgeport High School freshman who plays Bob Bradley – a laid-back father and family man who gets forced to help with the Christmas pageant. Jones, who has acted with the Off 380 Players and UIL one-act play, said this play broadened his horizons.
“It really changed the way I look at children’s theater,” he said. “I used to think it was just something people did in their spare time, but now I see that it’s a lot more than that, and a lot of stuff goes into the performances.
“It’s been a lot of fun – acting’s one of my biggest hobbies.”
For others, the play has provided an opportunity to expand their social horizons as well.
“For me, the best thing so far has been expanding who I’m with – getting to interact with people from different areas of the county has been a lot of fun,” Decatur eighth grader Lauryn Luttrull said. Luttrull plays the role of Grace Bradley, Bob’s wife, and mother to Charlie and Beth Bradley.
Charlie and Beth are played by Paradise sixth grader Clayton Smith and Decatur eighth-grader Elizabeth Warren, respectively.
“It’s the first time I’ve acted, so it’s been interesting – we’ve had some moments,” Smith said.
Warren said she had never acted either, and seeing how different people played different parts intrigued her.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching plays, I just never really thought about being in one before,” she said. “And so it was fun to see how everyone has taken a different approach to learning their part, because a lot of people are playing their parts different than how I thought they would. It’s pretty cool.”
McComis said if this play does well, and she thinks it will, then the Childrens’ Theater will continue to perform more shows.
“We’re hoping to do this one and maybe one in the spring before summer hits,” she said. “After Sunday, we’ll know more and see if there’s a demand for it. That’s what we’re thinking, though.”
Tickets for this weekend’s performances are $1 and can be picked up at the door or by calling 940-683-3480. Cookies and hot chocolate will also be available during the performance.