In a theatrical atmosphere, period pieces are common, giving the actors the chance to step into the shoes of individuals who would have lived in the past, while giving attendees the chance to travel back in time for a couple of hours.
But with its upcoming production of “Newsies,” those involved with the Amarillo Little Theatre’s Academy hope individuals can relate the true story of the Newsboy Strike of 1899 to what is occurring with the youth in the world of 2021, more than 120 years later.
According to a news release, “Newsies” follows Jack Kelly, the leader of a group of teenagers who organize a strike against publishing titans after the price of newspaper distribution is increased. The ALT Academy’s production, which features 33 students and eight adults, opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the theater’s mainstage, located at 2019 Civic Circle.
Even though the show is a Disney production, which brings brightness as well as big production numbers, Tre Butcher, who plays Jack Kelly in the production, said the darkness of the story itself stands out to him, finding out what these kids actually went through in 1899, sleeping on the streets and being neglected.
The subject matter of the production also stood out to Mikayla Garren, the newly named director of the ALT Academy, and the co-director of “Newsies.”
“When it first came out on Broadway, I was obsessed, as a dancer,” she said. “On top of that, it’s historically pretty accurate about the Newsboy Strike in 1899. When you do the research and look at the kids sleeping on the streets and how old they actually were, just what they had to do … it hits home … For this cast, I have been really surprised (in a good way) that most of them have done their research, like a lot of research, which is great.”
After growing up with the film, Butcher said it is a dream come true to be in this production. But through his performance as the main character, Butcher thinks he has found more of himself on the stage.
“It (has) definitely showed me who I am naturally on stage. I think I connect with Jack very well, so I think it’s taught me a lot of how to rally the ensemble around me, because Jack is the leader of these Newsies in a way,” he said. “Jack, he’s a dreamer. He’s a big dreamer, almost too big of a dreamer in some instances. I find myself relating to that all the time, you know dreaming too big and not keeping my feet on the ground.”
Alexis Bodkin also relates to the character she is portraying in “Newsies.” Bodkin portrays Katherine Plumber, a young female journalist in the late 1800s, which Bodkin noted was before women even had the right to vote in the United States.
“The fact that she has her own established career is so impressive to me,” Bodkin said. “She is very strong willed. She’s a little bit neurotic. She’s a bit all over the place, but she’s also very smart and she knows how to get what she wants, which she has to be able to do as a woman in this time period.”
Paired with Bodkin’s last lead of Esmerelda in the ALT Academy production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in 2019, she said she sees similarities between the two.
“They are both women who are surrounded by mainly men, but have figured out a way to establish themselves and make themselves not so much like a side piece or an ornament,” she said. “They have very full characters and big personalities.”
But along with the character development, the actors had to conduct with it being a period piece. Garren said the rest of the show, including the choreography and the vocals, are very challenging. But even with the challenges, Garren is confident in the actors’ preparation in this “joyful” production.
In the midst of the challenges however, Bodkin is making the most of it, with this being her last ALT Academy production.
“It’s a tough show. It’s very demanding physically and vocally,” she said. “I’ve had so much fun, and it being my last academy show, I’ve really just taken this opportunity of this character to really dive all in and get as much out of it as I can.”
Bodkin’s last production with the ALT Academy is going to be the first production with the theater in more than a year without COVID-19 safety precautions. Garren said she expects this production to feel as normal as they can make it, with ALT being able to sell every seat in the theater to attendees.
“It’s really exciting, and it makes me happy because I am so proud of this production that I hope that as many people as possible can see it,” she said.
Butcher said he is looking forward to performing in front of a full house again.
“We’ve been doing theater … socially distanced, but it’s not the same, not really getting the full experience, especially as a performer,” he said. “We work for the applause, so when you have way less people in the audience, it’s kind of harder to work with. But I think all of us are very excited to start performing for 100% audiences again. That’s going to bring a new level to this show, for sure.”
Garren believes it is important for everyone to see these kids’ experiences, seeing how in the midst of what they go through, they come together united at the end.
Through the production, Butcher has learned that anyone is capable of making an impact, no matter what their background is.
“I think that anyone is capable of making a change as long as they have the confidence and the people behind them to back them up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter your age, skin color (or) gender. Anybody is capable of making that change.”
Tickets for ALT Academy’s production of “Newsies” continue to be available. Other performances of the production occur at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and July 15-17 as well as at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and July 18.
Tickets are $18 for those ages 12 and up and $15 for those under the age of 12. For more information, and to purchase tickets for the production, call (806) 355-9991 or visit www.amarillolittletheatre.org.