WHALLONSBURG — With 32 kids on one stage, that’s 320 toes tapping inside 64 jazz and ballet shoes.
Sometimes, they tap in staccato, sometimes in perfect sync.
However coordinated, they have learned to move quietly through dark-curtained corridors backstage and wait in stillness for the lights.
“Quietly,” Alyssa Carroll, Boquet River Theatre’s music director, encouraged them, smiling, her hands pressing slowly toward the floor, telling the kids to slow down.
As the first dress rehearsal began last week, there were still a few stray giggles while actors searched for marks on stage.
Those giggles are about to become the butterflies of opening night.
The Boquet River Theatre Festival launched its 2012 season mid July, starting hundreds of kid hours of rehearsal, choreography and music direction that starts at 9 a.m. and ends every day at 4 p.m.
It’s a lot of work, but young thespians, ages 9 through 15, are drawn like hummingbirds to the restored Whallonsburg Grange Hall from Westport, Essex, Elizabethtown, Lewis, Moriah and Willsboro.
They know Boquet River, or “Bir-Tiff” as its often called, isn’t an endless play-date with summer friends.
It’s blocking scenes, memorizing lines, learning new music — lots of it — and practicing dance moves then figuring out how to fit those all together with 31 other kids.
Carroll, who acted with Boquet through her childhood and early teens, works with Director Dale Mason, another former Boquet actor who just graduated from high school, to produce the show this year.
They selected “Once on This Island Jr.,” a youth adaptation of the Broadway musical.
The story is told through island music, replete with steel drums and lively rhythms, Carroll said.
It is about an island girl who rescues a boy, who is from the wealthy side of an island, and how she learns to overcome prejudice and even death in the face of her vast love.
Regionally renowned choreographer Jackie Robertin designed nearly 15 dance numbers for this show.
As the first dress rehearsal wrapped up, Carroll and Robertin gathered the troupe together for “notes,” a collection of things directors noticed that day.
“Volume — I think I’ve written that down the most,” the director said, teaching the young actors to project their voices to the very back of the hall.
Where else but on a stage can kids be as loud as they want? It’s a message they listened to with austere quiet.
“Fidgeting,” she said, is another thing they must learn to control.
“And ignore the fly that’s buzzing around you on stage. Be careful of swallowing the end of lines,” she said.
“I don’t want to swallow a fly,” one actor replied from the rows of eager faces, earning laughter.
THE FOURTH WALL
“Remember diction!” Carroll said, turning four pages of handwritten notes around to show the cast.
“I wrote ‘volume and diction’ with this many lines under it,” she said.
She, Mason and Robertin encouraged the young people to act bigger in each part and to move with more emphasis, improving their stage presence.
“Is that acting or me?” little Joelle Steeves, one of the youngest children, wondered out loud.
“It’s you — acting!” Carroll explained.
“And smile,” Robertin said.
“Remember to keep those on and don’t forget to put up the fourth wall — that imaginary wall between what is happening with you on stage and the audience. You want to be so completely wrapped up in your world up here.”
“Focus on the edge itself,” Caroline Wilkins, another young actress, advised of her plan to keep an eye on the stage.
“Jackie?” 9-year-old Annette Stephens queried, as the day’s notes came to a close past 3:30 p.m.
“Is that your morning coffee?”
The room erupted in laughter.
“No,” Jackie said between breaths. “It’s my afternoon coffee.”
Behind the scenes, Ginene Mason fashioned 32 sets of costumes, and Jim Carroll produced the technical light and music show.
This season, Theo Bakewell of London, England, and Westport, arranged activities for the young actors between sets.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
The Boquet River Theatre Festival opens Friday with “Once on This Island Jr.” at 7 p.m., with shows also at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Whallonsburg Grange Hall on Route 22, about 5 miles west of the hamlet of Essex.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children and seniors.
For more information or reservations, call 412-2525 or email email@example.com.