Cresson Lake Playhouse will open its 40th season with its annual Children’s Theater Educational Festival.
This year’s featured production is Disney’s “101 Dalmatians The Musical,” which will give children ages 5 to 10 the experience of a theatrical production coupled with an educational fair.
The majority of shows will be performed on weekdays during the festival to kindergartners through third-graders.
Public performances will be held at 2 and 4 p.m. April 27 and May 4, and school performances will be at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. May 1 and 2 and May 7-9.
Thousands of students from 25 school districts in Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Indiana and Huntingdon counties will see the popular tale at the barn theater, 279 Shapiro Road, Loretto.
Elaine Mastalski, executive director, said the children’s theater gives many youngsters their first opportunity to attend a live production.
“We want to capture their interest at an early age so they can experience the charm and excitement of live theater,” Mastalski said.
Mastalski said studies show that if parents and teachers introduce youngsters to the arts at an early age, the more inclined they will be to sustain that interest as they mature.
“101 Dalmatians The Musical” is an animated tale of kidnapping villains and courageous puppies for a whole new generation of young performers.
Artistically inclined pet owners Robert and Anita live happily in London with dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdita, stalwart dogs devoted to raising their puppies.
Everything is quiet until the monstrous Cruella De Vil, Anita's former classmate, plots to steal the puppies for her new fur coat.
Audiences will join all the dogs of London as they daringly rescue the puppies from Cruella and her bumbling henchmen.
Admission for day performances for schools is $5 for students and $10 for adults. Teachers are admitted free.
The production features two large casts, with members ranging in age from 7 to 18.
Mastalski said the festival gives cast members a solid foundation not only in theatrics, but also in life.
“By participating in the show, these youngsters learn discipline and self-confidence,” Mastalski said.
“This festival also is a way for us to pay something forward to the community, which has been most supportive.”
She has witnessed children grow into certain roles as they discover it’s their responsibility to show up and perform.
“These kids learn quickly that other people are depending on them to be prompt when it comes time to rehearse and perform,” Mastalski said.
The show is under the direction of Holly Smith of Cresson.
Since Smith is working with students from various school districts, she has two casts in order to cut down on scheduling conflicts.
Because it is a busy time for students in their home school districts, having a duplicate cast allows Smith the flexibility of having someone fill in if their counterpart has required schoolwork.
“Working with two casts is my biggest challenge because we have limited rehearsal time,” Smith said.
“We have to make each rehearsal count.”
Each cast often has to break into small groups during rehearsals to work on various portions of the production.
“I rely on the older cast members to keep the younger ones occupied,” Smith said.
But Smith said the challenges are minor compared to the benefit each cast member gets from being part of the production.
“They learn responsibility because they have to be listening for their cues and be on stage at the right time,” she said.
“By working with so many other students from different school districts, the actors learn a lot of social skills and how to interact with others.”
Other members of the creative team are Joe Houser, scenic and lighting designer; Devin Hayostek, production manager; and Mastalski.
Tom Lavis covers Features for he Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.
What: Disney’s “101 Dalmatians The Musical.”
When: Public performances: 2 and 4 p.m. April 27 and May 4. School performances: 9:30 and 11:30 May 1 and 2 and May 7-9.
Cost: Public performances, $10 for adults and $5 for students younger than age 12.