Naples Performing Arts Center brings “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to area elementary and middle schools
Danica Murray and Cameron Rogers are two of Southwest Florida’s most promising young stage actors. You may have seen Murray as Caitlin O’Hare in “Over the River and Through the Woods” at Off Broadway Palm or “Cloe in Bulletproof Backpack” at Florida Repertory Theatre.
Rogers burst onto the local theater scene in the role of Brad in Richard O’Brien’s “Rocky Horror Show” at New Phoenix Theatre and impressed Laboratory Theater of Florida audiences with his deft and daring swordplay in “Dangerous Liaisons.” Both were recently in the production of “Our Town” at the Centers for Performing Arts Bonita Springs.
Murray’s first exposure to theater was at a touring show about Thomas Edison that visited her elementary school. Rogers’s mom took him to a Broadway Palm Children’s Theatre production of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Now Murray and Rogers are returning the favor by performing multiple roles in the Naples Performing Arts Center’s (NPAC) Theatre for Young Audiences production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Naples Performing Art Center Associate Artistic Director Kody Jones said that while Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) has been around for about four decades. Although new to many people, even avid theater-goers, TYA has an important role in introducing elementary and middle school students to the performing arts.
“TYA is an amazing tool for just getting the arts into a school,” said Jones.
“A lot of the kids that come to NPAC and take classes, they know they like acting, they know they like music and dancing. But there’s so many kids that don’t know. They’ve never been introduced to theater; Just so, so many. By bringing the show in we can show them what the performing arts is and inspire them to maybe pursue their own interest in and ambitions in dance, music or acting.”
That was certainly Danica Murray’s experience.
“I saw how much fun they were having up there and how they were being so creative and they were using their imagination,” Murray reminisced.
“To me, that was always something I was interested in. I was interested in making people laugh and telling stories. I was always a big storyteller as a kid.”
A couple of years later, Murray was inspired to enroll in summer camp at the Florida Repertory Theatre. She did so well that the company invited her to participate in their conservancy program, and that was the start of her life-long love affair with theater and a string of memorable roles.
For Cameron Rogers, serendipity had a hand in propelling him into a career as a stage actor. He and his family had just seen the first installment of the “The Chronicles of Narnia” film series. Shortly after, his mom learned that Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre was doing a stage adaptation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
“My mom took my sister and I to go see it pretty soon after we saw the movie,” said Rogers. “We saw that the show was going on. ‘Oh, what a coincidence. It’s the movie we just saw. Why not?’ First of all, I thought it was so cool you could eat food right before and that was the best part of it for me, but, I thought it was so cool that there were people who get to act out this amazing movie that I just saw and just have fun. It looked like a lot of fun.”
Given their previous experiences, Murray and Rogers jumped at the chance to be in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” They’re not just in the show. They play every single character. For Murray this is part of the charm of this TYA production.
“I change characters several times as does Cameron, we both change characters several times,” said Murray. “So, we’re giving this really broad show with just the two of us…It’s a really great experience as an actor and I think it will be great for the kids as well to watch that transformation happen.”
Rogers relishes the opportunity to show youngsters that their imagination has the power to create positive changes in their mental and emotional make-up that can last a lifetime.
“The magic of imagination creates this entire world,” said Rogers. “They go on this adventure that lasts for over 30 years in their minds but once they come out of it, only a minute has passed. So, it really just shows the power of the imagination, and it shows that all these characters go through such a long and emotional journey, and they’ve all matured by the end of it, but they carry that with them even though such a short time has passed in the real world.”
These are just a few of the benefits that schools will derive from bringing the show to their students. In Kody Jones’ estimation, the touring show is a perfect way for teachers to get their kids excited about literature, novels, and storytelling.
“This production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” would be great for schools and kids,” said Jones. “It’s such a great learning tool for teachers to bridge their curriculum into the performing arts and bring something into their schools to present to their kids to get them excited about literature and novels and storytelling and imagination and team-building.”
The Naples Performing Arts Center picked the show precisely because it’s a story that kids know and one that is utilized in many middle school curriculums.
“We even have a study guide that goes along to the school that kind of gives beginning and after activities, so before you see the show and after,” Jones adds.
“So, the teachers can utilize that to connect our performing arts production, our touring show, to their curriculum and we actually have connections in the study guide that show that we meet the Florida CPALMS, the benchmarks and standards for education.”
Schools don’t have to do anything beyond booking the 50-minute show.
“It can go in a library, a media center, or a school gym,” Jones points out. “We definitely don’t need a theater, and we bring everything in. The school doesn’t need to have anything but a 10x20 foot space for us to create in.”
The Theatre for Young Audience series is just the latest innovation that Naples Performing Arts Center has introduced to advance performing arts education and training throughout Southwest Florida. For more than a decade, their classes and workshops have been churning out triple threat thespians.
“You’re not just here to train as an actor…There are dancing classes and acro classes and acting classes and music classes and voice classes, and even classes on how to play the piano and other instruments,” said Jones.
“You can basically learn anything here pertaining to the performing arts and really come out as a triple threat. I think that’s what makes NPAC so special.”
The Center also has a full schedule of youth shows. For its younger performers, they’re producing “Annie” and “School of Rock” this season. For their older students, it will be “Pippin.”
““Pippin” is actually an amazing musical, but we’re bringing in all kinds of tricks and trampolines, stilts, to have this huge circus theme for “Pippin.” We’re even having a company come in to engineer a ring, a lear that drops from the ceiling that the actors will be flying on and utilizing during Pippin. So, we’re really excited about that one,” said Jones.
If you’re interested in having this production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” brought to a specific area school, call 239-325-8789 and Naples Performing Arts Center will be happy to book your tour. Who knows? Your student, your kid, or your grandchild could be the next Danica Murray or Cameron Rogers.
- Tours are available between Sept. 27, 2022 and June 2, 2023.
- This production comes with an optional fifteen minute Q & A with the actors.
- The show is designed to be performed in any space, large or small whether it be a classroom or large theatre or gym.
- It is also rehearsed and written to be adaptable to serve a wide range of ages levels, but is recommended for 1st – 6th grades.
- Tour pricing is:
- $450.00 for under 100 students
- $550.00 for 100-300 students
- $650.00 for 301-500 students
- To book a tour or for more information, either call 239-325-8789 or email Naples Performing Arts Center Associate Artistic Director Kody Jones at KodyCJones3@gmail.com.
- The idea of adding a Theatre for Young Audiences series is the brainchild of NPAC Producing Artistic Director and Founder Lori Oliver, who is always looking for ways to expand the Center’s footprint and expose more students to the performing arts.
To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.
Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.
WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.