Fictional character Millie Dillmount arrives in New York City in search of a life unlike her upbringing in Salina, Kansas.
Like Dillmount, Kate Collins Middle School is also searching for a new life for its drama department by rebranding the school’s drama club into the KCMS Theatre Company, and producing the school’s first musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie Junior,” this weekend.
Riley Reed, 12, a seventh-grader at Kate Collins Middle, however, is not new to the theater stage.
She began performing the summer after fourth grade in summer music camp at Kate Collins Middle.
But this weekend’s performance did require her learning about a time period and language known 100 years ago in the United States.
“Some of the lines are just sort of — you don’t know what the word means,” Riley said. “It’s just sort of words you don’t use anymore.”
Riley performed previously in “Beauty and the Beast Junior,” “Mary Poppins Junior,” “Frozen Junior” at the middle school last summer and “Matilda” at The Wayne Theatre in August.
In preparing for her role as Millie, Riley said she has been practicing singing at home, attending all rehearsals with the cast, and learning how to change quickly between scenes. Millie changes dresses four times during the production.
“I’ve learned a lot of things,” Riley said of being part of a production set in the 1920s.
She said she did not know a lot about the decade before now, but is learning about it in history class.
“‘Oh, I know about this stuff,’” Riley said she told herself during history class. “‘I sing about this stuff [in the show].’”
Jacob Hostetter, 13, is an eighth-grader at Kate Collins Middle. He portrays Jimmy Smith in this weekend’s production.
“I usually don’t dance in the shows I’ve done before,” Jacob said.
He will be dancing a lot this weekend as Jimmy.
Jacob said he has prepared for his role by practicing his lines at home with his brother and his parents, singing at home and participating in all cast rehearsals.
Jacob’s first experience on the theater stage was in the ensemble cast “Annie” with the Waynesboro Players when he was 8 years old, followed by an appearance in “Oz.”
Then he was also in “Beauty and the Beast Junior,” “Mary Poppins Junior” and “Frozen Junior” through the summer music camp.
This past spring, Jacob was on stage in “Beauty is the Beast” at Kate Collins Middle.
“[The show is] a lot different with how people acted [from today],” Jacob said.
Social norms in the 1920s were different than they are now, such as how men and women were expected to interact with each other.
And Jacob said ideals about marriage were different. “Thoroughly Modern Millie Junior” centers around Millie trying to find a job so she can find a boss who is single whom she can marry.
“It was a lot of hard work," Jacob said of the production. "It doesn’t look like as much hard work as has been put into it."
When asked if he is nervous about this weekend, Jacob said he always has “pre-show jitters.”
“You take charge of what you have to do,” he said.
Riley agreed about “pre-show jitters,” and added as a cast member she does whatever she can to help out with the set during showtimes.
“The show is really good,” Riley said.
Katilyn Shull is head of theater at Kate Collins Middle and co-director of this weekend’s production.
“So we have rebranded this year,” Shull said.
And “Thoroughly Modern Millie Junior” is the school’s first production with a theater company.
“We are super proud how far [the theater students] have come,” said Shull, who is also a sixth-grade English teacher at Kate Collins Middle.
For this weekend’s production, Shull taught the cast of 40 students 1920s dances such as the Charleston and the Varsity Drag.
“They’ve learned a lot of 1920s dancing,” Shull said.
The students also helped paint sets for the production. The main back drop was created by Kate Collins Middle art teacher Shannon Morris and her class.
Shull, a 2014 graduate of Buffalo Gap High School, said auditions for the production began in May and rehearsals began in August.
“This is my first show as the head of the department, and I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” Shull said.
Their willingness to help out “just warms my heart,” she said of the cast members.
She said she has heard them mention building friendships among each other and that they “feel like a family,” which is what every theatre production hopes to become.
“Part of it is the history,” said Flint Dollar, co-director of the show, on the production choice. “So I wanted to loop it into the curriculum.”
Talking about the 1920s with middle school students, Dollar said, got the class into “some difficult conversations” about topics such as the slave trade, prohibition and technology.
Dollar said he had to teach students how to use a rotary telephone and a typewriter as props in the production.
“Things that we take almost for granted and now we’re teaching [the history],” Dollar said.
He said the students also had to be taught the meaning of certain phrases said in the 1920s that are no longer part of the American vernacular.
According to Dollar, who is choral director at Kate Collins Middle, the school has had a drama club for 13 years that met every Tuesday and Thursday from 30 to 60 minutes during the academic year.
“With the level of talent we have here, and what the high school produces, my goal was to get them better prepared,” Dollar said.
The rebranded theatre company at Kate Collins Middle School will get theater students ready for the next step.
“With the talent pool that we have, why not do full-scale shows?” Dollar said.
The rebranding “was the right step at this time,” Dollar added, and is going well.
“The kids really took ownership of this whole process,” Dollar said.
The students have already begun asking what the next theatre production at Kate Collins Middle will be, which Dollar and Shull have already decided upon, but they are waiting to reveal so that the students can focus on this weekend’s show.
On Wednesday, Dollar said the students performed the show at William Perry Elementary School and for sixth and seventh graders at Kate Collins Middle.
Dollar said he received a lot of interest from students in the audience at Kate Collins Middle wanting to join the theater company.
“Which was the grand design. We want to build the program,” Dollar said.
Shull and Dollar said that they both believe theatre is for everybody and they want theater to be accessible to everybody, audience members and actors alike.
Admission tickets this weekend are low for that reason and during preparation for the show, Dollar said, the school and community did whatever possible for students to be able to participate as actors.
For example, Dollar said that some students were worried they could not be part of the show’s cast, because they would not be able to afford shoes to be onstage.
Shull said that 60 to 70 percent of students at Kate Collins Middle are on the free or reduced lunch program.
“We work to make sure that theatre is not cost prohibitive,” Dollar said.
An anonymous donation of $2,000 to the theater production helped out with costs.
“The hope is that the show will supply for next year’s shows [in ticket sales],” Dollar said, and the theatre company will become self sustaining.