They say a team is only as strong as its weakest link.

Director Jim McCulloch says the weakest link in the cast for “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” is still very strong.

Rock County has a strong pool of talent among its youth musical theater performers, which is one reason McCulloch says people should see the show.

“Alice in Wonderland Jr.” will run Aug. 8-11 at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. More than 60 kids from Janesville and the surrounding areas will take the stage as part of the production.

Though dubbed a “junior” version of a beloved classic, the show is not far from the original, McCulloch said.

Junior versions of classic shows are shorter than the originals, cleaned up for children and have music performed in a key signature that is easier for kids to sing, McCulloch said.

But the classic story about a girl named Alice, the Queen of Hearts, a Cheshire Cat and scenery designed to stimulate the senses remains.

About a dozen of the show’s lead actors stayed behind after their second rehearsal to talk to a Gazette reporter. None of the leads are new to performing, they said.

Jimmy Hodge, who plays the white rabbit, said the show is not long and is easy to sit through because there is so much going on.

Most of the kids said they enjoy performing because it is fun and gives them opportunities to meet new people.

Katie Kennedy, who plays the dodo bird, said she likes the show because each character has its own, distinct personality.

Leah Sodemann, who plays Alice, said she likes that the show feels like one long dream.

Putting a fantasy show onto the stage has inherent challenges, McCulloch said.

Making costumes takes time because “nobody has a caterpillar suit in their closet,” he said. McCulloch and volunteers work to find pieces of old costumes to fit to the show, and what they can’t find usually gets purchased online.

“Amazon is our friend,” McCulloch said.

The set is a beast on its own. The show is full of color and moving parts, and to make the story come to life, McCulloch recruited two students he directed at Whitewater High School: Emma Van Daele as stage manager and Weston Lema as set designer.

Lema said making sets for this show was different than others he has been involved with because there are fewer people involved. McCulloch has given the teens creative control over the production.

The show comes together quickly with just about four weeks of rehearsal time, McCulloch said. Rehearsals take place among several different rooms at JPAC.

JPAC staff had hoped the facility’s new education and outreach center would be finished by now to host rehearsals, but construction has been delayed to early August, McCulloch said.

Officials are spending about $300,000 on the center, which will serve as an incubator for youth theater, according to a previous story in The Gazette.

McCulloch thinks performance arts should be a part of core curriculum for students because the stage gives students who might not otherwise fit in a place to call home.

At a time when more students than ever report feeling anxious or depressed, theater offers a space for kids to release those feelings and be productive with their time, McCulloch said. It also teaches kids communication skills, self-confidence and how to talk with other people face to face instead of over a computer screen, something McCulloch argues is more important now than ever before.


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