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FARMINGTON — For the past six years, director Stephanie Storhaug has spent two months each summer shepherding dozens of local youngsters through the annual Heather McGaughey Children's Theatre program, delivering two productions each season of the same play.

So even though the rehearsal period for the second show is shorter than it is for the first and features a different cast, Storhaug said the latter production is smoother in many ways because of the things she learned from mounting the first production.

"We've found out what works well, how to tweak things," she said last week as she and her cast were polishing the second production of "Disney's The Little Mermaid JR," which opens Wednesday night. "From the teaching perspective, it's getting easier."

Perhaps the main thing she's learned from those experiences over six years, she said, is not to expect the same thing from the second cast that she got from the first, explaining that all kids are different, and they react to the challenge of being on stage in different ways.

More than 60 local children participate in the program every summer, and Storhaug said only a handful of those kids take part in both productions. When she has youngsters who carry over from one group to the next, she makes sure to cast them in different roles so they get the benefit of a broader experience.

Storhaug said the decision to perform the same play twice, instead of doing different ones, is largely a matter of finances, given the considerable cost of paying performance rights. But there's another reason to do that, perhaps just as practical, given the popularity of the program.

"If we did two different productions, I assume a lot of kids would try to be in both productions," she said, explaining that the program's current policy makes the experience available to more children.

Storhaug said the program tends to focus on well-known titles for its production, partly to attract scores of youngsters and also to attract a substantial audience. That approach apparently has paid off, as Storhaug said enrollment in the program has increased during her tenure, and audiences are responding well to the productions. She said a record crowd of approximately 530 people showed up for the first production of "Mermaid" earlier this summer, and she takes that as a good indicator of the program's health.

That momentum has been building every summer for the past six years, so Storhaug feels like she'll be leaving behind a solid program when she relocates to Seattle later this year, where she hopes to land another job teaching theater. She values the relationships she's built in her time here and said the support for the children's theater program — both on the part of the staff and the parents whose children take part — has been the best part of her experience.

"The people make it what it is," she said.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and measterling@daily-times.com. Follow him@measterlingfdt on Twitter.

IF YOU GO


What: The Heather McGaughey Children’s Theater production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 Where: the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington

Admission: $5 suggested donation

For more information: Call 505-599-1148
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