SPAN Program presents ‘James and the Giant Peach’ play

Published 5:21 pm Monday, June 3, 2013

This illustration appears on flyers for Chilton County SPAN Program's production of "James and the Giant Peach," based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl.

This illustration appears on flyers for Chilton County SPAN Program’s production of “James and the Giant Peach,” based on the children’s novel by Roald Dahl.

Students in Chilton County’s SPAN Program are about to give local residents another reason besides the Peach Festival to associate peaches with the month of June.

SPAN (Special Programming Achievement Network) is partnering with the Chilton County Arts Council to present “James and the Giant Peach,” a play based on the children’s novel by Roald Dahl.

The first of three performances will be Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at the Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center next to Jefferson State Community College.

The second and third performances will be Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. and Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m., also at CPAC.

SPAN counselor Randy Strattis said current and former SPAN students are involved in the play in various capacities, from acting roles to set building to backstage jobs.

“The whole program is involved,” Strattis said. “We’re not just using students who are in the program now. It’s open to students who are no longer in the program. It’s kind of a follow-up to help them on their road to success.”

Formerly the City Program, SPAN offers academic, social, behavioral and employability skills training for high-risk teenagers in the county.

“As things come together, you can just watch the kids’ self-esteem and self-confidence build,” Strattis said. “They’ve really enjoyed it.”

Students will perform and produce the play alongside members of the Chilton County Arts Council and the community.

Byrd and Strattis came up with the idea of holding the play as a fundraiser for SPAN and a creative outlet for students who had never had the opportunity to perform on stage or work on a production team.

“One of the main designs is to connect them with other people who are successful,” Strattis said. “If we feel like we can make a connection with these young people, then these people can become role models and mentors for kids. It just gives them another perspective on life.”

Funds raised from the play would cover field trips to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Walmart gift cards and other rewards SPAN offers students when they display academic or behavioral progress in the program.

“We think the power is in the positives,” Strattis said. “When the students do good, we like to reward them.”

Strattis said the program is looking for a yearly fundraising event to replace its former Citizen of the Year banquet and hopes the play could fit the mold.

“We don’t have any other fundraisers,” Strattis said. “This one looks very promising, and the kids are actually participating.”

Over the last six months, arts council member Elizabeth Byrd and others have partnered with SPAN to help create the backdrop, build props, make costumes and arrange musical and theatrical elements.

“I went to the school where SPAN exists, and I cleaned out one of their classrooms to create a space to build props so kids could work with me,” Byrd said. “We had a great time and we worked together. It was fun.”

Byrd said she brought an old backdrop and other items from home to repurpose for the play, and parts of some of the costumes came from thrift stores.

“We seriously have just taken things that we’ve had,” Byrd added. “Very little money has gone into what had to be done. It’s a labor of love as far as I’m concerned. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Strattis, arts council President Mary Schiermann and member Susan Martin have acting roles in the play; Ashley Kitchens, director of the play and English teacher at Jeff State, provided general guidance; Rose Utendahl-Kennedy helped with costumes; Anne Dalton directed the students; Julia Chastain assisted with props and scenery and vocal training; Mike Schiermann coordinated sound effects; Kent Martin helped with sets and props; Christine Brown helped with promotions and advertisements and designed flyers and programs; and Marsha Littleton assisted with publicity.

“When a kid acts out, sometimes they just need an opportunity to act,” Byrd said. “I am astounded at some of the performances kids are showing. Some of them may actually end up wanting to pursue a career in theater.”

James and the Giant Peach is being produced by special arrangement with The Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Ill.

Ticket prices are $7 per person or $5 per person for groups of 10 or more. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

For advance ticket purchase locations, call Chilton County SPAN at (205) 755-2779; Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center at (205) 280-8211; or Chilton County Arts Council at (205) 294-2400.