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Sawyer Sings!

Artists Profile

Millie Juraschek is the director of “Treasures-The Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer” at the Old Stone School in Hillsboro. Tickets may be purchased by visiting www.aurorastudiotheatre.org. Cost: $12 advance; $15 at the door; $5 students.

Explain the premise of the story:

An original adaptation of Mark Twain's American classic: The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, this family oriented musical comedy focuses on Tom's mischievous adventures — such as helping to convict a murderer and then finding buried treasure — and the town's reactions to such.

Why did you choose to direct this play?

Aurora Studios approached me, when they were in need of a stage director. I had directed some in college and found that I really loved it — so I jumped at the chance to work along side of several talented women to help fully create the show. Plus the idea of sharing my passion with other eager folks is very appealing.

What were some of the challenges when putting together the play?

Oh so many. One of the largest ones I faced was simply the size of the show and cast. That many bodies on stage is no easy task to manage. It was, extremely important to me that they all have a purpose up there as well — I didn't just want bodies up there as filler — all of them needed to have a fully developed character and purpose. So detail work is imperative — and there are simply so many details to cover with each additional head in the show. If I didn't have a production team and people like Meredith, the show would certainly have suffered some since handling all aspects of the show would have been too much work for one person. Another challenge has been the space we're performing in. While charming, it's quite old and fuses and power … tend to be a joyful surprise when they work properly.

What stands out the most about this production?

I think the amazing talent of the cast stands out the most. We have some very young folks with amazing natural gifts and instincts. And our soloists have astounding voices in my opinion.

What is your favorite character/most challenging role?

I don't know if I have a favorite — and really that's not very diplomatic of me. But to be honest, some of the smaller parts are my favorites because of what the actors have decided to do with the roles — they've created some extremely fun and interesting characters up there to watch. In general, if I had to pick a favorite character from the script, it would probably be Huck. He's just too much fun and a very powerful and deep character. The most challenging role really could have been any principle character. Musicals have a tendency to be played rather "cheesy" or cartoonish making for flat characters to watch. I challenged my actors to make the roles more real and less cartoon style, honestly, I wasn't sure if it was achievable — even by well trained actors, but the actors took their characters very seriously and added a tremendous amount depth to each one. I am extremely proud of them.

What has been your favorite play-related moment (either on stage or backstage)?

Probably interacting with my creative team and the actors themselves. Anytime something clicks with the actors and they get a moment is thrilling. You see a part of them change and a level of confidence grow. I've also loved how the younger children in the show take acting so seriously. If I ask them to go home and do some serious character analysis they will come back the next rehearsal prepared and anxious to show and discuss all they thought of. It's truly impressive. I love how the children are also carefully watching the others and learning from them. I really realized how closely they listen to me when I was calling for the actor who plays Huck Finn and I stated "Where's Huck Finn? I need him in my life for about five seconds to give him a note." The next thing I heard from one of the youngest cast members was "Huck Finn! Millie needs you in her life!" Hilarious. The best moment on stage — by far — was during opening night when the power strip that our musical equipment was hooked up to went out right before the teen girls were going to start a song about swearing off of boys forever. The girls quickly gathered something was wrong and improvised an entire scene about how as women they were starting the first women's coalition and then took an oath to never say a boy's name again … it was absolutely perfect and funny — the audience bought every word. And as soon as the power came back on I cued them from the back of the house — they wrapped up the scene perfectly and began the song. Later they asked if they could do that every night.

Is there music involved in the play and if so, how does it affect the play?

There is lots of music in the show. Often little moments are emphasized by little piano pieces our pianist wrote — sometimes her additional music is the comedic humor needed in the scene. The music also helps keep the play going and flowing.

Have you ever acted?

Yes. I have my BA in theater, concentration acting, from JMU. I've done both film and stage with roles ranging from Romeo in a four-person all-female cast of Shakespeare's R&J to a background artist in Universal's Evan Almighty, to fairy tale characters in movement-based theatrical productions such as The Skriker. I was a semi-finalist in the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Competition, a guest performer for the VMI Shakespeare conference and have studied at The Globe in London and under Loudoun's own profession actor, David Bolton Marsh.

What do you hope the audience will get out of it?

I hope they have fun mostly. Really, that they come and just enjoy it. I think that's what the play is about — enjoying life and everything in it. So enjoying the play is a great way to start on that new philosophy for some.

Have you worked with any of these actors before?

I have worked with some before — not many. A few I've acted with, and some, I grew up with. But most were new faces to me. It's a lot of fun meeting so many new people, actually and now I feel I can empathize with mothers with many, many children.

What is the funniest line/situation in the play?

I think the funniest line in the play is when the school teacher, Mrs. Dobbins, is testifying against Muff Potter. She states that she was walking to school and saw Muff bathing in the river. She then declares that she got a gooood look at him — the humor being … she got a good look at him bathing in the brook … only emphasized by the fact that the lady playing the school teacher is in her 80s. The other, hands down, hysterical moment is when Tom, Huck and Joe are in the funeral dressed in women's clothing — weeping at their own funeral. Those boys play that scene superbly.