SJMS students ‘Stop the World’ with ‘Newsies, Jr.’ performancesNov 03, 2022 07:35PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
“Newsies Stop the World” is front page news when a reporter writes how newsboys bring light to the poor working conditions of not only themselves, but of all working children.
The clever headline also plays off the fact that newsies are striking in turn-of-the-century New York City to rally together in opposition to unfair work conditions by powerful New York World newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer.
More than 70 students are making headlines at South Jordan Middle School as they are a part of the newly released “Disney’s Newsies, Jr.,” a 70-minute version of the 2012 Broadway musical and movie.
“I like the historical tie-ins to it because it’s based on true events,” said director and musical director Shawn Kidd. “I like being able to discuss that aspect with the kids and knowing that we’re at least partially representing real history.”
South Jordan Middle will perform “Newsies, Jr.” at 7 p.m. Nov. 10-12 and Nov. 14-15 along with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee in the school kiva, 10245 South 2700 West. Tickets are free and can be found at https://sites.google.com/jordandistrict.org/sojo-newsies-jr-tickets/home.
The choreographers are Nicole Benson and Paige Wightman. The costumer is PTA volunteer Jenn Dishman.
Kidd said that many students are familiar with the Disney movie, and he already has several who know the music as the theater and choir teacher has the seventh-grade boys choir sing a medley from “Newsies” each year.
“A lot of times we’ll watch the movie and talk about the actual historical differences between what happened in real life versus what happened in the movie. We’ll identify which characters were real people and which characters are fictitious. So that’s something that’s built into my regular choir curriculum,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot of it with the cast, provided historical photos so they know what the Newsies actually looked like as they’ll provide those and the school’s providing the historically significant costumes for roles like the Bowery (Beauties) brigade or the office staff and Joseph Pulitzer’s costume.”
The musical is set in the time of the trolley strike when Theodore Roosevelt was New York’s governor.
“We’ll be using a rear projection screen for a large part of our set so that we can do a lot of our set changes digitally. We’ll project historical photos of things like newspaper row from New York where the World building was and then the Tribune and the Times buildings, and the alleys and Medda’s theater,” he said, adding that the 14 students in his stage tech class are searching for those as well as learning sound and lights, and working on set pieces and props and will be in charge of the house management during the shows.
While the leads are double-cast, 59 students will appear on stage each performance. The thespians began rehearsing for about two hours four days per week in mid-September.
“I like the junior version because it had a lot more roles for girls. It is much more gender equitable,” he said.
Kidd, who has taught at South Jordan Middle for the past five years, has directed musicals “Elf, Jr.,” “Honk,” and “Mary Poppins” as well as several plays, including “The Orphan Train” that tells the story of nine orphans who were amongst the thousands of orphans roaming New York City streets and shipped to find homes in the Midwest.
“You could basically mail order an orphan, so it was really interesting learning some of those stories in basically the same era when we had tenements and at the time, diseases,” he said. “The students were really interested in knowing about these people that they were portraying, and what it was just because it was kind of the precursor to some of the foster system.”
Kidd was directing a one-act of “Titanic” in spring 2020 when schools closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had started rehearsing and the kids were learning who their characters were and whether they survived or didn’t. They were really into that,” he said. “I love to do shows that have a historical tie-in. Kids learn so much information, empathy and awareness of other people and things that are going on in the world.”
South Jordan Middle students also have performed two of Stephen Gregg’s plays, “Small Actors” and “This is a Test.”
“We usually have a musical for everyone in the fall and then, in the spring, I have my intermediate theater class’s production that is open to the class members. I also do a one-act that is open to the full student body to audition in the spring, too,” he said.
Kidd said the intermediate theater class usually reviews scripts looking for one that is a good fit, so at this time, it’s yet to be announced. Both one-acts will be performed in early May 2023.
“I really love that performing is an authentic experience for them. I never hear, ‘when are we going to use this in real life’ because they know exactly when they’re going to use it in real life. It’s very applicable,” he said. “I love that they can see how what they’re doing contributes to the whole team and group effort — and I love how they encourage each other and recognize that if they don’t get it done, it’s not going to get done and we’re on a deadline. So, it becomes a very real experience for them. There’s no makeup work. It’s very authentic. In education, we talk a lot about authentic assessment. And in performing arts, we do that all the time. ‘Why are we learning this song? When are we ever going to perform it?’ and I can point to the calendar. The stage tech kids, they’re building a real set for a real production. It’s not just a practice activity. It’s not just a worksheet. We’re going to see this thing all the way through to the end. That’s what I really like.”