The Candywoman Can
By Poonam Narotam
The flats were standing. The props in their places. The kids were a quiet wave of energy, buzzing with excitement. Lynn O’Leary played the first notes of the show on the piano, and the spotlight switched on. Devin Wright’s strong voice rang through the auditorium. We were in business.
After four grueling, fun-filled weeks of rehearsals, Camp North Star put on its eighth musical last Thursday night: Wilma Wonka Jr. For me, this musical was the first show I had ever directed.
I turned 22 in April, threw my cap in air in May, and came to Maine in June for my very first summer of camp. I had no clue what to expect, but I can tell you this: I was not expecting a Jake Hoffman to be so eager to play Veruca Salt (“I Want it Now”), or to see Roald Dahl’s Mike Teavee be turned Russian by our Vasily Semenov. Nor was I expecting to be so deeply charmed by these 18 kids.
Auditions took place the first week of camp, and, with a huge smile on my face, I looked at my roster to see…six names on the list.
“There’s no way”, I said to my co-director, Izzy Garcia. “Unless we live in the land of Harry Potter, there’s no way we can make six kids play 12 roles.”
And so began the process of literally singing and dancing to recruit kids to the play. I can’t remember how many oompa loompa numbers we created to perform at breakfast, lunch, dinner, campfire, camp meeting, and wherever else we thought we could entice these kids to paint their faces orange and dance around in overalls for an hour on a stage. By mid-week, I’m thinking to myself, Aren’t the kids supposed to be the performers?
Casting brought with it a bundle of nerves that confirmed one thing: I have the mom gene. I sat at the drawing board with Izzy going, “Does this kid have enough lines? Will that one feel left out if he’s not on Act Two? Are you sure he’ll be okay playing a girl?” And it wasn’t until the cast walked into the Recreation Hall that first Thursday morning talking about all the things they wanted to do with their characters that I let out the breath I’d been holding.
Four Thursdays later, I pull into the parking lot of Poland Regional High School, our performance venue, ready to face a 12 hour day with my munchkins. There was pushing and prodding, suggesting and, when they still didn’t know their lines two days before opening night, some yelling, to prepare them for this show. I choreographed and designed sets and freaked out when we didn’t think the sets would be painted in time, while Izzy sang and rehearsed lines and freaked out when we didn’t think the sets would be able to stand. And all we wanted was for them to be happy with their performance. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t hold their hands through the final run. Instead, Izzy gave them one last speech, and I blew kisses and doled out hugs. With my heart in my throat, I listened to Devin start off the show.
So when the audience began to cheer for the cast during curtain call, I jumped and whooped and fist-pumped along with them. The feeling I felt watching these kids achieve a goal they had set for themselves four weeks prior was like nothing I had ever felt in my life. And when the kids ran backstage after the curtain was closed for good, laughing and cheering themselves, I just began to envelop them up in giant group hugs. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to direct in my first musical, a better family to be a part of my first summer at one of the top-rated sleepaway summer camps.