Everybody wants to be a cat

Dunkirk elementary students were not in class this week, but that doesn’t mean some of them didn’t go to school. Instead of their regular school, students from the city’s elementary schools have been going to the high school and working together.

About 60 elementary students from first-grade through fifth-grade have been learning about theater and putting together tonight’s 6:30 p.m. performance of “The AristoCats Kids.” They have been using the auditorium at Dunkirk High School as the place to learn the songs, lines and movements for the musical production which is based on the 1970 Disney Film “The Aristocats.”

The theatrical venture is sponsored by the Playground Drama Day Camp with the 21st Century Grant After School Program.

According to its Facebook page, “Playground Drama Day Camp is a fun introduction to the spectacular world of theater. All participants join the ranks of the ‘Playground Players’ and are a part of the cast or crew in each week’s theatrical production.” The page also shows pictures of students working on the current production.

Caitlyn Herzlinger, a 2008 alumna of SUNY Fredonia, has been directing this production. She models and encourages movement to go with the story and the music.

“Walk like cats down the aisle,” she told the children who were returning to rehearsal after a break for a drink of water on Thursday morning.

Jeannine VanWey, the Dunkirk High School music teacher, took the students through a “sing through” of the musical numbers. She explained that the “play kit” contains a CD with the words and one without. On Thursday, the students were trying to manage with the music only. The pressure was on to work without the playbook and get the words and cues correct so the actors will be prepared for tonight.

VanWey periodically reminded the students it is important to project so the audience in the back of the auditorium could hear the words.

Speaking about Drama Day Camp she said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students to get experience with the arts. Because of the 21st Century Grant, we can offer it without cost to the students.”

Those who have seen the film, “The Aristocats,” will be familiar with the music and characters in this adaptation. It’s a family friendly production.

Hope Ofrem, who plays Edgar the butler, the story’s villain, watched VanWey carefully. She knew when to sing her lines and sneezed convincingly on cue.

Maya Rosplock and Adina William who play the Gabble Girls (geese) have learned to work together as their pleased smiles and high-fives at the end of their song demonstrated.

Maya said, “I did this because I had the time this week.” She’d like to do it again.

Adina is enthusiastic about theater. She said, “This is the third time I have done this. I’m doing the next one too.”

Tammi Sullivan, the grant coordinator through SUNY Fredonia, explained that Professor Ted Sharon from the theater and dance department founded the Playground Drama Day Camp. It has been a part of August at SUNY Fredonia since 2006. There are two one-week sessions on campus each summer.

This is the third production during spring break. These camps take place in Dunkirk and are for students in Dunkirk.

Sullivan said, “It’s a great opportunity for these students. The public is welcome to attend; admission is free.”

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