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Sheldon High School Summer Theatre kicks off season

SHELDON, Iowa -- The play's the thing for the 60 students acting, set-building and stage-managing six plays in six weeks with the Sheldon High School Summer Theatre this year.

"We've really got great interest this year," said program director Lisa Lane-Johnson. "We really turn out good actors. They get more experience here than in other high schools."

The summer theater program started in 1972 as a summer drama class with students producing a puppet show at the end of the class, which was led by English and drama teacher Jay Shelp. Back then, the Sheldon school district paid for the program out of the general fund.

Thirty-five years and two directors later, the program is nearly self-supporting, thanks to ticket sales, advertising and vigorous community support. Fewer than 400 students attend Sheldon High School, and about 60 are involved in the six plays this year.

"It's a great way to spend your summer. It's fun," said Tim Vanden Berg, who just graduated from Sheldon High School. "It gives me a chance to show off my talents. It's something I enjoy."

The plays are all directed by students, too, in a sense. College students are hired and paid to direct the plays over the summer, and many are Sheldon graduates. In fact, many of them participated in the program as high school students.

"My experience has been really good so far. I've got an excellent staff," said Stevie Trevathan, director of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." "They're just hilarious. They're a riot."

Trevathan, a music major attending Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, is a 2006 graduate of Sheldon High School. She welcomed the opportunity to give back to the program she enjoyed so much in high school.

Although young, the Sheldon players have a breakneck production schedule rivaling most professional theater companies. The students produce one play a week for six weeks in a row.

Lane-Johnson chooses plays in January or even earlier.

"I'm kind of particular about the plays," Lane-Johnson said. "Really heavy dramas just don't go in the summer."

Students audition in April, before Easter, and begin working on the first play at the end of April.

Most plays get four to five weeks of preparation, although some have only three.

"It can be harrowing. You have to have a lot of energy," Lane-Johnson said.

During performance week, students get together Monday to build the set and don't leave until everything is finished. They paint Tuesday. Prop day, when every object to be used in the play is at least theoretically brought in and set up in the correct place, is Wednesday.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday are performance days. At the end of the Saturday show, students strike the set and pull everything down.

On Monday, they start all over again with a new set and a new production.

"It's taught me a lot of things: time management, organization, how to work with others," said Tony Sneiderman, college student and director of "The Girls of the Garden Club." "It's been a challenge working with a 20-woman cast."

Throughout the week, students have rehearsals, sometimes two to three a day, depending on how many plays they're in. Rehearsals don't have a set time because kids schedule them around jobs, athletics and family time.

"I love my cast," said Kate Arnold, a sophomore theater and psychology major at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. "They're really working hard to get things done ahead of time."

Sheldon High School Summer Theatre 2007 Season

All performances are at Sheldon High School. Tickets are available at the door.

Girls of the Garden Club

8 p.m. June 14, 15, 16

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

8 p.m. June 21, 22, 23

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

8 p.m. June 28, 29, 30

The Princess Plays

7 p.m. July 5, 6 and 2 p.m. June 7

Grease

8 p.m. July 12, 13, 14

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