Outside the rain poured into the dark night, puddling in the mostly empty parking lot on the quiet residential street.
Inside, the sound of music and laughter filled Walltown Children’s Theatre, at 1225 Berkeley St., as cast members rehearsed for their annual performance of “The Durham Nutcracker.”
But this isn’t the version that you may have seen before.
“Our version of ‘The Durham Nutcracker’ evolves as the characters do,” said Cara Williams, the president of the theater board. “The shell of the story is the same, but the details change, the songs change and the choreography changes.”
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The Walltown Children’s Theatre, founded by executive/artistic director Cynthia Penn, a professor at the UNC School of the Arts, opened in 2000. Under Penn’s leadership, the theater has remixed Tchaikovsky’s classic tale in order to add elements of dance that aren’t commonly seen in mainstream productions.
“We have kids performing from ages 5 to 16, and we include styles like Bollywood, Chinese, tap, hip-hop, jazz and ballet,” said Williams.
Daphne Chinfloo, 11, of Durham is excited to play the part of “Rebecca” in this year’s production.
“I was in it last year, but I didn’t have a speaking role,” said Daphne, with a sinister grin. “I’m the lead mean girl this year.”
During a rehearsal for the ballet rendition of “Waltz of the Flowers and Butterflies,” many of the cast members chatted about opening night.
“I’m excited to have an audience,” said Jessie Howard, 14. “We’ve been practicing in front of the mirror for so long that it’ll be nice to finally look into their eyes and be able to just perform.”
Jade Franco, who will be celebrating her 15th birthday during the show’s performances, giggled with the other dancers as she talked about her character and prepared for her role within the production.
“I have a solo this year,” said Jade, of Durham. “I’m excited about that, and I’m excited about my lines. I have a favorite line. I get to be mean to Jordan.”
Nia Huell-Griffin, 11, who lives in Chapel Hill, talked about her “wanna-be” mean girl character Jordan with enthusiasm.
“She’s just trying to fit in,” said Nia. “I like playing her because she’s like me.”
The first act of “The Durham Nutcracker” will be familiar to those who have seen it before, said Meg Feigal, office manager of the Walltown Children’s Theatre. “But the second act changes,” she said. “We will end with high energy.”
Although the story may change from year to year, some aspects of performing remain the same.
“My favorite parts are the costumes and getting ready,” said Yashimabeth Kudumu-Clavell, 13. “Last-minute makeup and making sure everything is ready.”
As the headlights of cars waiting to pick up children began to beam through the rehearsal room, the final touches were added to the piece. The cast members patted each other on the back for a good run-through of the performance and packed their bags, filled with homework and tutus, to head home.
Walltown Children’s Theatre’s presentation of “The Durham Nutcracker” features two performances at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. For tickets go to http://www.walltownchildrenstheatre.org/
“This will be an artistic journey you don’t want to miss, “ said Williams.
Anna Williams is a senior journalism major at UNC and a writer-photographer for the Durham VOICE.
About the Durham VOICE
The Northeast Central Durham Community VOICE (durhamvoice.org) is a joint project of the journalism programs at NCCU and UNC, staffed primarily by local urban high school aged youth, with mentoring by NCCU/UNC journalism students. The VOICE, launched in September 2009, is supported by a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, in partnership with the City of Durham as well as local civic, church, arts, education and social justice leaders. Interested teen writers are encouraged to contact email@example.com
Walltown Children’s Theatre’s presentation of “The Durham Nutcracker” features two performances at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. For tickets go to www.walltownchildrenstheatre.org/