First is usually a good place to be. It's never a bad thing being first in a marathon or a spelling bee.
However, if being first means first of three productions at the West Deptford Little Theatre, it can be a bit nerve-racking.
“They’re first, so they’re under the most pressure,” said Laura Lynn Trace, the group's vice president and director, pointing to the cast of The Little Mermaid rehearsing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid will begin playing from July 11 to 13, followed by Aladdin and Willie Wonka.
After their stage rehearsal, the cast of The Little Mermaid, 42 kids in all, head down the hall of from the theater to a classroom close by. At the head of the classroom is Joe Zachowski, a music teacher at Washington Township and the group’s music direcotr. Today he is leading the class in a number from the show titled “Kiss the Girl.”
“I love it—every summer I come back,” said Juliana Vernacchio.
Vernacchio said she plans to participate in the Little Theatre until she can no longer. As a current student at GCIT for performance arts and drama, she plans to pursue theater throughout her life. She said she knows she would like to continue with theater, but is unsure at this time of where that may lead her. Vernacchio will play Ursula in her eighth year at the Little Theatre.
“I like her, she’s sassy and fun,” said Vernacchio about her upcoming role.
Joey Schramm heads the Little Theatre program, taking over where his parents left off, and said that The Little Mermaid will be the test for their new venue—it's somewhat smaller than what they're used to—but said so far it looks promising.
“[We’re] excellent, there’s been no problems, no drama, we’re just happily progressing.” said Schramm.
The Little Theatre began on the front yard of house in Sherwood, when Schramm’s parents first began to put the program together. Now going into its 39th year, the program has seen a number of home bases and venues. From a wrestling building to the old Colonial Manor School to St. Matthew’s Catholic school, the program has moved quite a bit. Schramm can even recall when the Colonial Manor School was demolished before they had time to remove their props and belongings.
“We have been homeless, we go from place to place.” said Schramm.
Yet, the ever-changing location doesn’t stop many of the kids, who range in age from 4 to 18, from coming back, year after year. The Little Theatre program accepts kids from all areas, though the majority of kids are West Deptford residents. No child is turned down for the program.
“I don’t think it would have mattered what part I got, I am just happy to be here,” said Lauren Marucci, a sophomore from Clearview Regional High School, who will play Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
Yet this is not Marucci’s first major role at the Little Theatre. In her previous years, she played Cinderella in Cinderella and Kids and also played Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh. She is currently in her seventh year at Little Theatre. She said while she plans to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse in the future, she feels like theater will always be a part of her life, and said she’d love to come back and direct.
Another director in the making is Olivia Gendron, who is acting as assistant director to The Little Mermaid, as well as playing the role of Chef Louie.
“It’s a funny, funny role. He has a big personality,” said Gendron.
Alongside her role in the production, Gendron acts as director in one of the directors’ absences and also keeps the ensemble entertained with theater games when those with speaking roles are rehearsing. Gendron is in her ninth year at Little Theatre and plans to come back as a director.
“It’s fun—I love the little kids,” said Gendron.
Schramm said in addition to building self-confidence, this program gives kids a judgment-free environment to be themselves in. He believes a place like this can help kids to come out of their shell.
“It’s for those who maybe don’t do the sports thing,” said Schramm.
However more then that, Schramm explained that Little Theatre is its own family. He pointed to a colleague who met her husband at Little Theatre when they were just kids, and said that many similar stories have come from out of this program, helping build a legacy that can be traced through the generations that have attended it for almost 40 years.
Read more of West Deptford Patch's Little Theatre coverage: