Community Events

Extra! Extra! ‘Newsies’ delivers fun, empowering message

Seven-year-old Pavla Ballou of South Royalton and 8-year-old Sadie Sabatino of Bethel line up as thelittlest of the fierce Brooklyn newsies who show up to rally with Jack’s newsies. (BarnArts / LindaTreash)

by Sam Jefferson, for the Community News Service

Black tape lines the hardwood in the Barnard Academy gym, shaping a mock stage for the soon-to-be actors who have gone there each day for the last two weeks to read lines, sing songs, and practice their big performance.

They’re part of a youth summer camp put on by BarnArts, a rural arts center in Barnard that, among other things, organizes plays for communities in Windsor County. Thirty campers, aged 8 through 18, have been piling into that elementary school gym to rehearse the musical “Newsies” in the run-up to opening night at 7 p.m. on August 4 in the Barnard Town Hall.

“Every year we try to find a show that was different from the last one,” said BarnArts Executive Director Linda Treash.

Compared to last year’s musical comedy “Seussical,” this year’s play has more serious undertones.

“We really like to do meaningful shows for the kids, and ‘Newsies’ tells a true story about how kids are powerful and have the ability to make change in the world,” Treash said.

In “Newsies,” the main lead is a teenage New York City newsboy named Jack Kelly, played by Jesse Page, 18.

Taking place in 1899, the play begins with Kelly and his friends, who have been re-selling newspapers as a way to make money. That is until newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer ups the price and takes the kids’ profits away.

“The message for the play is that children have influence, that people without power, if they form in groups and cooperate with each other, can gain power and fix wrongs and injustices in our world,” Treash said.

Treash’s daughter, Marlena Farinas, 15, is playing 15-year-old Davey Jacobs, the lead supporting character who acts as the brains behind the teens’ fight to earn their selling rights back from Pulitzer.

“Davey is the most educated out of all the Newsies,” said Treash, referring to the group’s moniker in the play, “and it was a little challenging to be so different from the other characters and stand out at first.” Ensemble building is at the core of BarnArts’ three-week summer youth program. On the first day, the 30 campers are split into six teams with kids from all age groups.

“It can definitely be a weird dynamic, but the older kids take on the role of being the groups’ leaders, and they help the younger kids and role-model for them,” Farinas said.

In these teams campers play improv theater games, recite lines, contribute to chore work and more, so they can grow closer as the program goes on.

This year’s group in particular has been different than in years past, as 13 new campers have jumped onto the scene since last summer. “Thirteen new kids has to be a record for us,” Treash said. “It’s been really great to see them come in and be such strong performers and support each other every day.”

That sense of communal support is key for the musical, especially for smoothing any issues around casting.

“Sometimes the younger kids don’t fully understand the fact that they’re not going to get a lead, and we try to talk to them and explain they’ll work their way up to leads,” Treash said.

To try to combat some of the inevitable disappointment with missing out on a role, Treash’s team asks campers to pick their top three choices for roles and include one role they don’t want.

“We have twins that have been in the play for a number of years, and they requested this year not to be cast as the Clancy brothers, which was very useful because sometimes people would naturally want to see that,” Treash said.

BarnArts leaders try to structure their plays’ musical numbers to include as many kids they can.

“When it comes to the dances we try to get as many kids on stage as possible,” Treash said.

With only a couple days left, the full cast has begun to run “Newsies” from beginning to end. Director Ryan Page did the first run-through July 28, ahead of more heavy practice the final week.

“We had our first stumble through on Friday of the whole thing, and I was happily surprised by how well our kids had it down,” BarnArts Music Director Carol Cronce said.

Cronce’s role is to make sure the kids have all of the songs and dances memorized by opening night. “I feel a lot better about it after Monday’s session,” Cronce said. “They sounded great, and the ones who are new to us are very experienced with other local school theater programs, which has helped.”

The singing and dancing will be accompanied by a live rock band made up of local musicians.

To see the live music and a set decorated completely with only newspaper, you can attend the “Newsies” premiere this weekend on Friday, Aug. 4 at the Barnard Town Hall at 7 p.m. Other showtimes can be found on the BarnArts website.