A musical recently staged by St. Mary's/St. Alphonsus School in Glens Falls taught its participants more than just the production's morals of tolerance and acceptance.
That's proven by the fact that students keep coming back to participate long after their eighth-grade graduation: for example, Liz Miele, a junior at Queensbury High School, chose her alma mater's production this year over that of her high school.
"It's so fast-paced and everyone's so involved in everything," she said of the SMSA Community Players, the official name for the theater group. "I feel like it's more close-knit here. And, also, I got the lead in this."
Liz played the role of Ugly in "Honk!" The musical is an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Ugly Duckling."
Her character is initially ridiculed for looking odd, but she explained that everyone learns "not to judge a book by its cover and always be considerate to others, no matter where they come from or what they look like. You should always have sympathy and try to understand what people are going through."
About 35 cast members, including SMSA students, alumni, teachers and even the principal, rehearsed nearly every weekday for a month. Saturday rehearsals were held to accommodate college students.
Mickey Luce, director of the production, has been an educator and theater director for more than 40 years, overseeing about 180 plays. He retired from 11 years as a social studies teacher at SMSA last year.
A parishioner of St. Mary's Church in Glens Falls, he had experimented with community theater in the mid-1990s with the Falcon Players, a group honoring the parish's late pastor. Mr. Luce resurrected the style in 2005; it's become so popular that the SMSA Community Players regularly sell out the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls and add a third show, said Kate Fowler, principal of SMSA.
"It's not a little school play," she said. "It's a pretty big undertaking."
"Honk!" cost about $9,000 in royalties, scenery, musicians' salaries and other expenses. Ticket sales and donations always keep the school in the black.
Mr. Luce said the activity teaches young children discipline and responsibility. Liz said it helps them understand what makes teachers tick.
"It's a closeness that's not normally found in the classroom - like an aunt or uncle [relationship]," she said. "Kids feel a lot more confident. All the nerves that they get on stage and stuff, they get used to it. It's also talking to adults, saying what you need to say instead of just being submissive all the time."
Liz started acting with the SMSA Community Players in sixth grade and has also worked on stage lighting. She learned dramatic techniques from older actors and found a home in the atmosphere.
"An acting community is like a family. We go through so many emotions together," she said. "It's what unites us because we get so comfortable with each other. I can tell them anything and they'll understand. They'll be there for you no matter what."