The Florida Chautauqua Theatre's current production is the cat's meow.
Culminating the theatre's fall Music and More Workshop, children from kindergarten to eighth grade will come together to showcase Disney's "The Artistocats" on stage. Based on the 1970 animated movie, the story follows a family of well-to-do felines who are saved by an alley cat after being kidnapped by their butler. The film was the last project that Walt Disney worked on before passing away in 1966. The film was later introduced to the stage, which the local theatre based its production on.
"It follows the movie pretty closely, but there's more music — wonderful jazz music," explained Beth Campbell-Work, director of Florida Chautauqua Theatre. "It's a fun show and it's not long, so it's a great way to introduce your children to theater."
The theatre represents the very definition of "community theatre." Everybody, from the parents to the board of directors have a role.
"We have 13 board members and nine are actively involved," Campbell-Work said. "That shows what kind of organization this is. It is all volunteer-run. We have two ladies who make all of our costumes, and I'd put them up against anybody's."
During a non-rehearsal day, parent volunteer Barbara Cooper is painting a background scene for the stage. Brand-new to DeFuniak Springs, Cooper enrolled her son Aidan in the Music and Me workshop. Upon hearing that she had artistic talents, Campbell-Work quickly put her to use.
"We have a rule that every parent must take a job or we couldn't possibly do this," Campbell-Work said. "None of it's elegant, but we try to make it work."
There will be 30 local children in next week's production from all around the Northwest region — Crestview, South Walton, Freeport and even Niceville. Four of which are older students who previously attended workshops — "the veterans" Campbell-Work likes to call them. Every child in the workshop gets a part in the play.
"This is all about the children," Campbell-Work said. "Before we had the theatre, there was nothing for children to do. No pee wee soccer or baseball."
Through the Music and More Workshops kids learn to be self-confident and work in groups. It's all about teamwork, Campbell-Work said.
"We try not to develop stars," she said. "The beauty about young children is that they are amazingly non-cliquish. That's why I love working with children."
Audiences also appreciate the change to witness live theatre.
"I feel like people here like performing arts," Campbell-Work said. "The energy is great. We really have great support from the north and south end, we're very blessed."
Campbell-Work has directed plays at Florida Chautauqua Theatre for more than 20 years. In that time, she has directed her children, her grandchildren and even her former student's children.
"I have the best job in the world," she said. "If there are no children to direct in heaven, I'm going to be disappointed."
As a former elementary school teacher, she knows how to corral large groups of kids — even if that means being stern.
"I can be rough," she said. "I expect the best behavior on and off stage."
She points to a small figurine, it's Cruella de Vil, the villian in "101 Dalmatians."
"That's what they call me," she said with a laugh.
Mistakes will be made on stage, Campbell-Work said, which is OK. What matters is how you react. If a student falls or misses a line, she teaches them to pick themselves up and keep going.
"Don't come to the play expecting perfection, because these are children. Of course, with the little ones, it doesn't matter because they're so cute," she said with a laugh. "But it's going to be great. The energy will infect you."
WANT TO GO? The Florida Chautauqua Theatre will present "The Aristocats" Friday Nov. 22 and Saturday Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 24 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students 22 and under and may be purchased by phone 892-9494 or online at our website www.fcweb.org.