Southland’s star spangled musical, a family traditionMar 09, 2020 12:09PM ● By Jet Burnham
A Civil War scene features a brother fighting against his sister, as two siblings play roles in opposing armies. (Jen Preece/Southland Elementary)
Sixth grader Ryan Horner starred as the lead role of Ben in Southland Elementary School’s production of “Quest for the Stars and Stripes” on Feb. 6 and 7. His older brother Tim, now a senior at Riverton High School, played the original role of Ben six years ago.
“It was just the coolest thing that he would get to be cast in my part, and I would get to watch him do what I did when I was in sixth grade,” Tim said. “I just had such fantastic memories from the show. It was so much fun.”
Southland musical productions have become a tradition for many families. Sharon Kartchner, Mary Jackson and Jennifer Preece—parents of past and present students—have written, arranged and adapted three musical productions that are performed in rotation every other year. Many students perform in the same plays as their siblings, either together in the same production or in a production a few years later.
In “Quest for the Stars and Stripes,” a cast of 100 students portrays key people and events from 1777 to 1959 that influence the “wardrobe changes” of Gloria, the American flag. They sing 11 songs featuring characters such as a passionate Francis Scott Key, a noble Abe Lincoln and a sassy golden spike as well as events such as war and westward expansion.
“We are happy that kids get to learn about American History in a fun way while also bringing our creative dream to life,” Preece said. “We love that being a part of this production gives these students a sense of accomplishment, confidence and pride in a job well done.”
Once students reach fourth grade and are old enough to be in the cast, they have likely already seen the play and know if they want to be a musical cotton picker, a beauty queen from Alaska or Hawaii, or a confederate soldier singing about “Goober Peas.”
Fourth grader William Michaelis knew he wanted to audition for the role of Paddy, an Irish immigrant working on the railroad, so he worked hard to master speaking and singing with an Irish accent.
“It took a lot of practice and a lot of watching videos on YouTube about how to do an Irish accent,” he said. “One of my dad’s co-workers is Irish, so he had him say all my parts, and my dad recorded it.”
The play was written to be a good mix of entertainment and education.
“It definitely helped me as a sixth grader to see the basic outline of American history that I didn't really understand,” Tim said. He said each time he has watched a younger sibling participate in a school play, the tunes and historical facts he learned at their age come flooding back to his mind.
Janey Tobler, who played the role of Gloria the American flag, said she will remember more about history from the fun way it was presented in the play than she would from a classroom lecture.
“When it's just boring, nobody really wants to listen,” she said. “But the way we do it in the play, it feels more exciting.”
Ryan plans to continue following in his brother’s theatrical footsteps next year in middle school. Tim, like many Southland alumni, continued on from his experience at Southland to perform in middle and high school theatrical productions.