Heritage Students Hit Bull’s Eye with “Annie Get Your Gun”
The rough and tumble wild West came to town recently and many Heritage students filled various roles to present a wonderful new play in the Heritage repertoire.
“Annie Get Your Gun” was performed for three nights in April for the Heritage community, parents, other treatment centers and community members.
McKaye Treanor, development director at Heritage School, helped produce the play, one of five rotating plays the school presents.
“There were 45 kids who participated, 15 more than usual,” McKaye said. “In addition to having kids fill acting roles we used kids for lighting, sound, stage manager and assistant director.”
Traci Hainsworth, events manager for the School of the Arts at UVU, directed the play. Traci has had extensive experience, working on “Hee Haw” and “The Grand Ole Opry,” among many other productions. Heritage School and UVU now have a working relationship regarding the use of Heritage’s state-of-the-art, 620-seat Performing Arts Center.
“Heritage has graciously allowed us to use their PAC for some of our performances,” Traci said. “This was my first time working with Heritage students.”
She said the interns filled the roles of choreographer, stage manager, prop mistress and music directing.
“Some Heritage students shadowed our students and learned from them,” Traci said. “Dominic was our assistant director and assistant stage manager. He worked closely with the stage manager and he did an outstanding job. He was an absolute sweetheart to work with on a personal level; on a professional level he was an excellent stage manager.”
Dominic, 17, served in these roles, previously held by adults.
“At auditions I told them I wanted to be a director,” he said. “I was actually calling out the director on her tactics. I thought I was going to get a normal role but they asked me to do that.”
Dominic said he realized this was a great opportunity and a good learning experience.
“I had to make sure everyone was quiet and working so the director and choreographers could work without noise,” he said. “It was hard and tedious at first but it got easier as we practiced. I liked calling the technical aspects of the play.”
Dominic said he plans to go to college to study directing, film and photography.
“The kids learned confidence,” McKaye said. “A lot hadn’t acted before. They got up in front of audiences and it was great for them to be someone else. It might have been the first time in their lives they were recognized for something positive.”
McKaye said many students expressed a love for acting and working together.
Jordan, 14, played Little Jake, Annie’s brother.
“I’ve been in many other plays in previous schools and camps,” Jordan said. “It was fun to meet and get to know everyone. It was a really fun play to put together. It took a lot of time and hard work.”
Jordan said the hardest thing about being in the play was memorizing lines. He said he would love to be in another play if he is still at Heritage when the next one comes around.
Jordan’s mother Ellen said her son has taken acting classes in Los Angeles and loves acting. She was impressed with the way Traci managed to get the kids to work together and look so professional.
“Everyone did a great job,” she said. “It was very entertaining. It was wonderful to see the kids work together – it was just a delight. My husband and I were pleasantly surprised.”
Ben, 15, played Tommy Keeler, a handsome young knife thrower who falls in love with Annie.
“I thought it would be hard but it was easy,” Ben said. “I guess the hardest part was changing costumes super fast. You’d have to change and run to be back on stage.”
Ben said his parents and grandparents saw the play and thought he was really good in his role.
Traci said she and the interns had the same feelings when the play was finished.
“I had each intern write a paper about the experience,” she said. “Each said the same thing I did – that it was the hardest thing I ever done. It was difficult working with students with problems. We had to remember they don’t look ill but they are ill.”
Traci said it she can’t think of anything she’s done that was more rewarding.
“It was such an amazing experience,” she said. “I learned to grow to love each of the kids – I can’t find words – they were so amazing. They taught me far more than I taught them. They pulled off the most amazing production. I was so proud of them. Two or three times each performance night they made me cry.”
Traci said lack of acting experience was not the most difficult part of working with them on the play.
“The difficulty was not lack of ability in singing, dancing or acting,” she said. “The difficulty was the byproduct of their illnesses – a lack of discipline, focus, ADHD, memorization and remembering.”
She said even though it felt as though they were starting from scratch many nights because of problems with retention, it finally came together. Repetition and patience helped but a key ingredient was missing until right before the first performance.
“McKaye and Tami Harris (Heritage’s chaplain) and I talked that the one ingredient that was missing was their belief in themselves,” Traci said. “Up to the last week we knew they could do it, they just didn’t believe they could do it. We threw them in front of an unexpected audience – staff and family seeing a rough rehearsal.”
The students didn’t know they had an audience for that rehearsal.
“We said, ‘Surprise! There are people in the audience,’” Traci said. “We told them we’re doing this because you don’t think you can do it but you can! Some kids looked like they needed oxygen. They began to believe and that was the missing element. That lit a fire in them that just took off.”
Traci said she wants to direct Heritage students again but knows she will do things differently next time, knowing what their limitations are but that the capabilities are there.
“I would love to do another play with them,” she said. “All they have to do is ask. It was just such an incredible experience. My experience with actors and student actors is totally different. I would make a lot fewer mistakes because I know what to expect.”
Whether the same students are there for the next play remains to be seen. The goal is to get kids healthy to return home. But whomever Traci works with will feel her passion for the craft.
“It was gratifying,” she said. “Half the time I wanted to drop kick them and the other half I just wanted to hug them. At the end I could say ‘You did it! I told you you could do it!’”