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Acting students absorb lessons through "Pirates"

Thirty-five young actors, ages 6 to 21, have taken on the task of becoming singing, dancing buccaneers and maidens for the upcoming Bend Experimental Art Theater production of the musical "Pirates of Penzance," which first debuted in New York in 1879.

The play is the first under the direction of Jimena Shepherd, a former BEAT student and cast member of the theater's first production in 2006, when she was just 17 years old.

"From the very first show it got in my blood," said Shepherd. "I'm a crazy dramatic emotional person so theater has been a good outlet for me to express that and use some creativity."

Now, she's teaching students to express their own unique creativity through theater.

When I visited the BEAT practice space (unexpectedly settled next to the News and Smokes cigar shop on Highway 97), the cast was practicing hard, tromping around the room in costume pirate boots.

Being a cast member of "Pirates of Penzance" is a big extracurricular commitment. Students have been rehearsing for nine weeks, four days a week, three hours a day. The product is a well-polished rendition of the challenging operetta.

"The singing is very difficult," said Shepherd. "We could put on an easy show and the kids wouldn't learn anything, but we're putting on a show that's challenging and they rose to the occasion. They learned about music and improv and acting in the process."

Set at Penzance, an English seaside resort, in the 1870s, the play by Gilbert and Sullivan offers an arts education as well as a historical one.

"The older kids have asked a lot of questions about meaning throughout the process," claimed Shepherd. "It's a great aspect to the educational side of BEAT to learn about the dress, and their way of speaking."

This production isn't just for doting moms and grandmas—the youngsters are triple threats worth the cost of admission. They sing, they dance, and they really commit themselves to their unique roles whether rattling off 100 words a minute in the tongue-twisting song, "Major General," or twisting their faces into expressions of sheer bone-chilling terror when heading into swashbuckling battle.

"The kids took the characters and personalized them," said Shepherd. "A lot of what you see on the stage—the character development, the blocking, the faces—those were the kids' ideas and we just incorporated that into the show. They are 100 percent involved. You really get to see these kids' creativity and what they are capable of."

Pirates of Penzance

2 pm and 7 pm Saturday & Sunday

April 19-21 and 26-28

Pinckney Center for Performing Arts

2600 NW College Way

$15/adults, $10/18 and under


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