Stepping into the performance world during a pandemic is a bit like stepping into Narnia.
There may not be a faun in a snowy forest waiting to meet them, but the kids involved in the Whidbey Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” have had their fair share of ups and downs during the past year and a half.
The C. S. Lewis fantasy classic is the theater’s first production since February 2020, when a musical version of “The Jungle Book” was performed by youngsters. The theater’s spring production, “Les Miserables,” was just one week away from opening night when the pandemic arrived and closed the curtain on performing.
“Les Mis was the most arduous theater process I’ve ever been through, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s lots of work but super fun,” said Lily Fisher, a 2021 South Whidbey High School alum. “It was definitely a kick in the gut when we couldn’t perform it.”
Callum Cassee, also a 2021 graduate of the high school, agreed.
“It was genuinely a year of work that, for lack of a better way of describing it, went out with a whimper,” he said.
Middle school and high school students have been waiting in the wings until now. They will be taking center stage in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which opens Friday, Nov. 5. There are a total of 10 shows and two different casts, since a record-breaking number of kids wanted to be part of the production.
Cassee and Fisher are both joining one of the casts as the White Witch and Mr. Tumnus, respectively. Cassee, who has a passion for fight choreography, has been helping direct the battle scenes alongside mother Cait Cassee, who is the director for Cast A. Ann Johnson is the director of the other cast, known as Cast 1.
In a first for the theater, the young actors will remain completely masked — in face coverings that match the color of their costumes — for the duration of the whole show.
“It’s a really small thing visually, but it’s really huge when you have to be up on stage and act with one of these,” Cassee said.
Amoraea Kenneth Martin, a freshman who plays Lucy, pointed out that speaking on stage can be a challenge.
“Projecting is really hard through masks,” they said. “It’s really difficult to portray emotion, because nobody can see the lower half of your face. All of the character’s expression is focused on the eyes and eyebrows.”
Nevertheless, the excitement on set is palpable. During a rehearsal of the show’s final battle scene, kids leap onto different parts of the stage, drawing swords, daggers, bows and in one case, a mallet.
“It’s pretty cool to be in the first play here in like two years. It just feels really special,” said sixth grader Taylor Janes, who plays the centaur. “The script does follow the movie really well. My family, we really like the movie. We watch it all the time.”
For the golden-haired senior Aidan Martin, playing Aslan is a dream come true.
“Since I was very little, I was introduced to the Narnia movie and it’s still one of my favorite movies, like top three,” they said. “I’m very honored that I get to play Aslan and very thrilled to perform.”
Although the actors reported that the script follows the book and movie faithfully, the audience might notice a few slight changes. For example, one cast has a Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, while another has a Mrs. and Ms. Beaver.
“It’s a small little character choice but I think it’s going to give a more unique twist to how it was originally supposed to be put on,” said freshman Chloe Cranch, who is stepping into the brand-new role of Ms. Beaver.
The two casts will be splitting the amount of time on stage. Although the casts are dominated by teens and tweens, there are some younger kids taking on roles. The youngest actor is 8, and the oldest is 19.
The show is the first in the line-up for the theater’s 40th anniversary season, titled “Roots and Wings.” All tickets are $12 each and reservations are recommended either by phone, 360-221-8707, or by email, email@example.com.
Capacity in the theater is limited to 100 seats. All audience members must either show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours to enter. Masks are required.