Enthusiastic, eager and youthful energy filled a large dance studio space. Home-schooled students went through their paces rehearsing for the Northern Virginia Players’ upcoming production of “Mulan, Jr.” As they moved about, deeply engaged in getting things down in tune to the music, they radiated a quiet, confident air.
Under the patient, watchful eyes of co-directors Ann Eul and Kate Wittig, more than 60 cast members between the ages of 7 and 19 rehearsed solo and in duets and multiple groups the demanding, precise work required to create a live musical. There is so much to do — dialogue, singing, choreography — even learning to stumble on cue or stand still, but in character, takes time and concentration.
For Eul and Wittig, “It is immensely rewarding to watch a roomful of students, of varying ages, backgrounds and experience, learn and grow together and eventually produce an excellent theatrical production.”
As the children are home-schooled and not from local elementary, middle or high schools, they come from all parts of Fairfax County and from the Washington, D.C., area.
“Mulan, Jr.” is based upon the 1998 Disney animated film “Mulan.” The musical is set a long time ago in China and centers on the adventures and struggles of a young woman (Mulan) trying to find her true self when her options appear limited. Using her own strength, courage and resourcefulness, she accomplishes more than she ever dreamed possible, learning that the secret to a journey is taking the first step.
The score includes songs with titles giving hints about what to expect, including “Reflection,” “Honor to Us All,” “Written in Stone” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For.”
The Northern Virginia Players prides itself on producing “quality community theater for children,” with a mission to help young actors reach their full potential. Eul and Wittig say they want their charges to learn to trust and encourage one another to succeed over the course of a production. And with a large cast, ensemble building is critically important. Actors learn very quickly that the ensemble is not a place to sit back and relax, according to Eul and Wittig.
Actor Colleen Porter said working in the production has helped her gain “self-confidence.” Another actor, Allison Burke, said, “It has been a great experience learning about how a big production works. I enjoy everyone working together to reach a common goal.” For Savannah Lynn, being in “Mulan, Jr.” provided an opportunity to meet and make new friends.
Parents have a major involvement in the success of the production.
According to Chris Grose, “Every parent has an obligation of some sort to the program. Just as in private and public schools, a quality production of this magnitude takes a tremendous volunteer effort. We parents take part in making costumes, building set pieces and other necessities. ... One thing that I really enjoy watching is how the kids learn to work with one another even with the diverse age and maturity levels.”
Robyn Sanborn noted that her “daughters have learned the value of teamwork in theater. ... No one child is put above the rest, and many kids have the opportunity to have a speaking or singing part. ... Everyone learns that it is more important to be a team player than to be the star. They encourage each other.”
For Randy and Ginger Porter, “Our children learn teamwork and discipline. They learn to step out of their comfort zone and take risks. They learn to laugh at themselves and be encouraging to others. They learn that everyone has value and brings something to the group, from the youngest to the oldest.”
The Northern Virginia Players production of “Mulan, Jr.” also will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization with a mission to honor and empower the wounded warrior. “We have many families in our cast that are currently serving in the armed forces ... we thank them for their service,” Eul said.