Its just before the dress rehearsal for Aladdin Jr. at Northwest School of the Arts. Aladdin is the schools first big show of the year and, for some sixth-graders, the first taste of what a Northwest production is like.
Dressing room doors bang shut while some students get costumes sewn onto them. Girls lean over the bobby-pin-strewn counter, frantically applying eyeliner and heavily scented deodorant.
Amidst the chaos, sixth-grader Jada Jones sits in a chair while a high schooler puts finishing touches on her makeup. Jadas an ensemble member.
Three other sixth-graders are getting ready, too, among others.
Max Orroth, who plays the villain Jafars right-hand man, gets his mic taped to his forehead and neck.
Yabi Gedewon has donned a massive hat for his Jafar costume. An older student spots him in the hallway. Is that Jafar? she gasps. Hes so cute! Yabi adjusts the hat. This is crazy, isnt it? he asks, grinning.
Sophie Teague, a narrator, is given golden bangles and jams them onto her wrist before dashing off to the stage.
Two nights later, theyre singing and dancing in the 32-student cast on their first Northwest opening night, Nov. 1.
Their first middle school musical
The performance was a success that night, although Yabi got a few more laughs than intended when he took longer than rehearsed to disappear from his genie characters cave and they shined a light on my butt and everyone saw it.
Castmates Max, Sophie and Jada get a good chuckle while he recounts the embarrassing moment. And Yabi, who mightve been mortified a year ago, laughs off the incident.
Just a couple of months into the school year, theres a change in these four sixth-grade musical theater students: Theyre boisterous, theyre sassy, theyre comfortable with each other and with talking in a Northwest conference room. Two months ago, they didnt need much prodding to chat, but now keeping up with the conversation is like watching a pingpong match across the table.
More confidence, said Andy Lawler, Northwests arts director, about what theyve gained by performing in a school musical.
These audiences are bigger than in elementary school its more than just parents who come to Northwest shows and the production values are better, too. Northwest musicals, even at the middle school level, are major productions: For Aladdin, there were set, costume and lighting designers, a choreographer, stage managers, deck hands and more.
The four said they particularly enjoyed performing for fifth-graders from First Ward Elementary and showing them around the school that theyre now experts at navigating.
One thing hasnt changed: their enthusiasm for school and for musical theater.
I thought it was way better than any theater Ive performed, Max said of Aladdin.
Now it just makes me feel so cool to be a part of Northwest because I used to be the one in the audience saying, I wish I could be up there, Sophie said.
Lessons from Aladdin
They learned the musical and much more in a month, they said.
We expect greatness, and they bring it, said the shows director, Sarah Buckner.
She said shes amazed by how quickly sixth-graders can tackle the learning curve.
Theyre coming from elementary school, and middle school, academically, is such a different beast. And its a giant school full of high schoolers too, and theyre having to adapt to rehearsals, she said. Were throwing them into the deep end and telling them to swim, and for the most part, they do.
Yabi had to work on playing a villain and getting mean. He also learned the importance of projecting his voice. My voice can go louder now than it normally can.
Jada loved making new friends and learned how to dance on a less springy surface than what shes used to. Sophie learned the importance of facial expressions: We had to be like E! News reporters in performing the news, she said. She also learned she likes dancing; she didnt think she was good at that.
Max studied how to do an evil laugh Yabi said the first attempt sounded like a kitten and also how to act oafish on stage. He said he also learned its important to practice dance techniques instead of just memorizing routines, to become more natural.
Offstage, the four said theyre dealing with more homework than theyve ever had and learning how to manage their time. Jada said she tries to do as much in advance as she can, and Yabi said he learned hes got to do his assignments the day theyre assigned or hell get behind.
Theyre also continuing their musical theater education.
In class, the sixth-graders are singing solos from various musicals in a scene theyve written themselves. We have to learn how to do emotions, Max said. Theyre about to finish the final part of their musical theater history lessons, too. For the schools spring music review, theyll begin working on songs from The Wizard of Oz and Grease.
Outside of school, theyre busy: Yabi is playing soccer, Jada is dancing as a soldier for N.C. Dance Theatres Nutcracker, and Max wants to audition for a Christmas production somewhere. Sophie said shes considering returning to voice and keyboard lessons, now that school life is settling down.
The love circle
Exhilarated from their first musical performance, they all had a common favorite experience: the love circle. It was a cast gathering between two Saturday shows when everyone said something they loved about the cast. I started to cry, Sophie and Jada said simultaneously.
Now theyre excited about prospects for next falls musical, but its a whole year away. When I listen to Aladdin songs now, its sad because it means its over, Yabi said.
Jada agreed. It was amazing.
Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens