Bodies rush around a set stage, placing props at the top of the show. Giggles reverberate through the black box theatre as busy hands braid hair and place finishing touches on costumes.
Jokes are exchanged, crushes are talked about, questions are asked about assigned English homework, and glimmers of hope and young ambition float across the eyes of the young performers in “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” as they prepare for opening night.
“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” directed by Emma Taylor, is one of many shows in the Youth Education Program at Muncie Civic Theatre. The show covers the adult themes of grief, broken hearts, growing up and losing a sense of self— all told by actors in middle school and high school.
Bridget Duggleby, who grew up doing various theatre clubs in her middle school and high school experience, is the education director at Muncie Civic Theatre and the person behind these youth productions. She double-majored in theatre and elementary education at Ball State University, and first found herself acting and volunteering before eventually directing productions at Civic while still teaching elementary school.
During this, the education program at Civic was slowly growing.
“Three years before the pandemic we went from having 30 kids in one or two shows a year to having about 200 kids that were involved in the year, and at that time, we just had a lot of growing room,” Duggleby said.
When the opportunity arose to become the education director at Civic, she left teaching and took on the Civic full-time.
The Youth Education program at Civic is broken up into two types of shows: Saturday programs and Encore shows. The Saturday programs are normally tailored to a younger audience.
For these youth shows, anyone who registers can get in— there isn’t a traditional audition process like there would be for an adult show, Duggleby said. The only auditions are for main roles.
The audition process for the Saturday programs is not the same as a normal show, as the directing and creative team “audition” for students first, letting the students involved in the production cast the adults in roles and explain their reasoning— providing them with a real-life example of how casting works, in hopes of softening the blow and anxieties that often come with casting.
“We don't all have the same gifts, but that doesn't mean we can't [all] be part of telling a really great story,” Duggleby said.
Adrian, seventh grade, and Declan Collins, sixth grade, have been involved in shows at Civic for years— both in the child and adult programs.
Muncie locals would likely remember seeing Adrian on buses and billboards in the Muncie community for promotional material for “School of Rock,” in spring 2023. However, between the two brothers— they have participated in productions at Muncie Civic Theatre such as “Newsies,” “Seussical,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and many more.
Their work at the Civic has allowed both Adrian and Declan to feel more connected with their communities and other schools.
“You get to interact with all kinds of people; and the way it all comes together, all the roles just practice [at] a different time,” Adrian said. “And in practice, it doesn't seem as good as it will when everything's put together for the show.”
Even though the shows in the mainstage season— ones often for older adults— have longer rehearsals that span across 10 weeks, both of the Collins children expressed theatre is something they enjoy.
While working on “School of Rock,” Adrian was waking up at 7 a.m., going to school until 3 p.m., sometimes having rehearsals until 10 or 11 p.m., then going to bed and waking up to do it again the next day.
“It's a lot, but it's worth it,” Adrian said.
As for the Encore shows, these are productions normally geared toward middle school and high school students who are familiar with theatre and are more passionate about pursuing professional-level theatre, Duggleby explained.
The shows for the Encore program tend to explore more mature themes with shows like “Mean Girls Jr.” and “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” being two of the shows for this year.
Ellie Nolan has been involved in over 20 productions, to her memory, despite being just a freshman at Delta High School. Her favorite part is that theatre is “whimsical, but it's also really, really serious.”
Nolan plays Beatrix, one of the three sisters who act as protagonists in “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing.” Nolan’s character has to face the idea of losing youthful joy as she grows, as well as having to face the idea of forgiveness head-on.
In the span of the show, the audience watches the three sisters grow up over 20 years— the characters being played by the same high schoolers the whole time.
“It's really cool to experience something that can stretch your age a little bit and playing with the ages, especially in the show, is a big thing,” Nolan said.
Kennedy Lovelace, a sophomore at Yorktown High School, plays another one of the three sisters. The sister she portrays spends her life unlearning her people-pleasing nature and learns to put what she wants first.
“I like that you can step out of your day-to-day and be a different person or character for an hour or two; it's very fun and calming,” Lovelace said.
The ability to step out of real life and step into a character does not negate the effect the storytelling of theatre has on the audience and actors alike.
“I don't know, it makes it more real and less like a fairy tale, and more like something that could actually benefit and teach the audience,” Lovelace said.”
Across both programs, learning and growth at a personal level are at the forethought of the creative team’s mind.
“They become your kids. To watch them grow and just be comfortable in their own skin, it's so cool,” Duggleby said. “[They] take risks when they aren't comfortable, [and] it's really awesome to watch.”