In the new documentary “Stage Presents,” follow Terry Dvorak (left) and the 2012 cast of “Seussical Junior” to learn how—now 10 years later—youth theater impacted the cast.
Image provided by JDog Productions, LLC
Several kids in costume run down a hallway towards a dimly lit backstage area. They speak in hushed voices and adults shush them repeatedly.
This is the opening of “Stage Presents,” a short documentary about the Verona Area Community Theater’s production of “Seussical Junior” produced a decade after the performance by JDog Productions, an independent documentary production company.
Greg Jeschke, the director and founder of JDog Productions, and his main purpose of this documentary was to emphasize the shared experience that children got from this theater production.
Terry Dvorak, the director of “Seussical Junior” in 2012, reached out to Jeschke about doing this documentary because she had so much film from when they had done the show that they had done nothing with.
The next part dove into rehearsals, which all of the kids said was such a positive experience for them.
“They were the highlight of my week,” Josh Busher, who was another actor and brother to Jake Busher.
After the musical was over, kid actor Henry Brown said that it even felt wrong not going to rehearsals on Sundays.
One of the cast’s favorite parts was when they got to go to the high school for dress rehearsals.
“I don’t think there was anything more exciting for me at that point in my life,” Josh said.
“Opening Night” is the title of the fourth part, and it describes how all of the kids felt about the first night they got to perform. The documentary shows the intensity of the night and how stressful it was for the kids and volunteers.
“In a way it was incredibly intense because it felt like ‘Oh my gosh, if I make one mistake tonight all this work, three months of work is just a waste,’ which is funny because looking back on it nobody necessarily minds if they see young kids performing and someone slips up,” Josh said.
Brown also said that it felt very intense, but also very exciting. He said it always felt like it would fall apart at any minute, but the show always came together somehow.
The final part of the documentary showed each of the kids talking about the gifts or “presents” they took away from their experience in community theater.
Gracie Penwell, who has a severe form of epilepsy and would often have seizures because of her condition, was one of the actors from the cast. Her mother, Colleen, was very thankful that Gracie got to experience theater as a kid.
“I was just thrilled that Gracie got up there and auditioned and really wanted to do it very independently, and did it much more successfully than I had ever imagined,” Colleen said. “I sat in the seats and got teary watching her.”
Penwell was worried about Gracie in rehearsals and that she would not be able to keep up, or that it would slow things down for them, but overall she said it was way better than she thought it would be.
“It does good for Grace, but it does good for everybody else who’s there who’s witnessing, or stepping up to help, or adjusting and realizing, ‘Oh we can still make this work,’” Penwell said.
“I think her involvement in theater has made her a more confident adult,” Penwell went on to say.
The other actors said that, looking back, Gracie added a lot to the show with her presence. Corinna Smith, one of the actors, said that it was unique to see her be a part of it when other theaters may not include her.
“I think just being able to see her experience all of that was very special,” she said.
Like Gracie, many of the other actors reflected on how their time in VACT helped them grow—something they can now see looking back on the experience 10 years later in “Stage Presents.”
Brown said he was very shy as a kid, but being part of musicals helped him to open up and get excited about different things.
“Those are some of my favorite memories of when I was little. I just had so much fun at VACT. It just influenced me in such big ways,” he said.
Josh said it helped him to see the importance of community instead of focusing on his individual experience.
“I learned a lot of things on how to become a young adult, become a young man, how to really thrive and foster in this world. But a big part of that is just this selflessness that you need to bring into this space,” Jake said
Smith said that it helped boost her confidence and build her ability to work on a team.
“This became my purpose and my job…and it really fulfilled something in me,” Terry said.
Jeschke said his main target audience for the documentary is parents, so they can see the value in giving their kids this shared experience, and the gifts they can receive from it.
This is why he called the documentary “Stage Presents,” to illustrate how thankful the kids were for this experience. Jeschke said it was clear throughout the interview process how impactful it was to the kids even 10 years later.
“It kind of goes without saying. Everyone here no matter who you were or what your background was was always accepted with open arms and you’re all taught to be welcoming,” Smith said.