Pit & Balcony’s 91st season will continue from January 27-29 with Ramona Quimby which will run two weekends through February 3-5th. Adapted from author Beverly Cleary’s series of eight humorous children’s novels centering upon the unpredictable, boisterous, and independent 13-year old Ramona Quimby, her family, and her friends, the first novel appeared in 1955 with the final book in the series published in 1999.
The regional premier of this theatrical version consists of a collection of vignettes that are narrated by Ramona’s older sister, Beezus, and takes audiences through a whole year with the Quimbys as they navigate the joys and trials of regular small-town American life, with the characters’ experiences as relevant today as when they were originally written.
According to Pit & Balcony Managing Director Amy Spadafore, who along with assistant director Alexandria Evans-Hall is also assuming the directorial duties for this production, the play features a cast of nineteen, including a youth ensemble for many of whom this is their first production, along with two father-daughter duos. The titular lead character is played by Heritage High School student and correspondent for SWAG Magazine, Karleigh Anderson.
When asked about the selection of this play and why they were eager to direct it, Amy explains that Pit & Balcony tries to provide one theatrical play geared to younger audiences each year. “One year we might gear the production for high schoolers, another year middle school, and the next year elementary levels; but with COVID the last couple years we haven’t been able to get younger kids acting on the stage, so the play selection committee wanted to take this opportunity to appeal to a younger generation, as well as parents with young kids. And for me as a 35-year old, this play is very nostalgic.”
“Ramona was my idol as a kid growing up,” continues Amy. “When this play was brought up I couldn’t stop smiling and actually squealed with delight because I usually do not put my name in to direct plays that often; but for me at the age of 12 or 13-years old, when I would get my hair cut I would ask the stylist for a ‘Ramona’ haircut - that’s how deeply I was into this character.”
As for co-director Alexandria, the play carried a similar appeal. “While I didn’t grow up with Ramona Quimby the way Amy did, I saw the movie a couple years ago and thought she reminded me a lot of myself - always getting into things growing up; but I also signed on because I wanted to learn how to direct from Amy.”
For Spadafore, the reasons Ramona appeal to her sensibilities are numerous. “As a character Ramona is so inspiring. She is authentic and never afraid to be exactly who she is, even when it gets her into trouble. She is brash and bold and has this huge imagination. But she is also guided by her heart and all Ramona wants is for the people she loves to love her back and to be understood. She wears her heart on her sleeve yet is brassy and unapologetic because she’s all about the truth and being real, but also is driven by this overactive imagination.m I think we can all learn from Ramona Quimby and I’m so excited to be presenting this nostalgic piece to our audiences.
In terms of the approach she is taking with directing Ramona Quimby, Amy says that because the play itself is a series of vignettes adopting material from most of the book series that takes us through an entire school year day the first day of 3rd grade to the first day of 4th grade, the vision she is taking is one that “straddles the line between imagination and reality.”
“A lot of the script itself is based in reality, but there are three scenes that are definitely Ramona’s imagination in play, or the way she would have remembered things,” explains Amy. “So the challenge for me is to visually distinguish between these two states of imagination and reality that interact. The play isn’t set in any particular time period, but the inspiration for the scenic and costume design is coming from my friend’s 7-year old daughter, Scarlett Davie, who’s been sending us drawings of houses and what they look like inside and out. So the stage scenery will look a lot like a -year old drew it, which is exactly the point,” smiles Amy.
“But the biggest challenge is going to be the scene transitions. We have this unusual set, but it’s not blocked out in the script; and because of the scenic design we have working with our stage manager, where we have all these houses moving and turning and becoming new places, everything flows from one scene to another which is hard to do when you don’t have a set yet, but I’m excited to see it all come together.”
“The cast ranges in age from 8 to maybe 50, with well over half of them in the 8-14 year-old range, so it’s a good multi-generational group,” reflects Amy. In addition to Karleigh Anderson in the lead role, the cast consists of Riley Salvner as Beezus, Melanie Olk as Mrs. Quimby, Nathan Cholger as Mr. Quimby, and Michelle Mersy as Aunt Bea, with the remaining characters portrayed by Jack Rzepka, Dan Kettler, Shirley Symon, Sandra Cline, Brynlee Quellet, Nikolas Watford-Conrad and a Youth Ensemble consisting of Amelia Nowak, Avery Swartz, Paityn Gruesbeck, RaQuel Ogweno, Layla Villanova, Dacoda Christenson, Grace Osborn, and Natalie Kettler.
When asked if she finds it difficult or challenging working with so many kids, she notes how contrary to what one may think, its actually an immensely rewarding and refreshing experience. “It’s really fun. Everybody asks me if someday I will direct a show with just an adult cast, because all three of the plays I’ve directed at Pit have featured large numbers of kids; but I like it because kids pick things up so quickly. They don’t have a lot of baggage and if I ask them to do something a little silly onstage, more time than not they will take it to the next level.”
“You have to wrangle with them a little here and there, and expect to reel them in, but I’ve never had to deal with that,” she continues. “Once the kids get to know one another they become sharp on their cues and help each other out. They take initiative when they see things need to get done and I’m always impressed with the kids that come to audition for our plays.”
“Karleigh is a good example,” adds co-director Alexandria. “I think she understands Ramona and plays her so well because she doesn’t overact. She can pick up on the smallest details.”
“One of the lines she has is supposed to be delivered in a wistful tone, but Karleigh gave it a sarcastic tone that took us all by surprise,” concurs Amy. “She makes good choices that are funny and subtle. Sometimes young actors try too hard to be funny, but Karleigh is very subtle.”
“With the case of Melanie Olk, both her kids performed on our stage before, so she said it was her turn to try out and is learning so much and growing a lot as an actor, continues Amy. “It’s exciting to see new people get their sea legs on our stage and build their confidence. But its inspiring to see. These kids have no idea how good they are.”
In addition to the regularly scheduled run, Pit & Balcony will also present a free daytime performance to over 270 area elementary and middle school students.
“The school show is the best show,” says Spadafore. “Young people are so uninhibited and respond big and honestly to what they’re seeing on stage. It’s thrilling to watch local youth engage with art, often for the first time, in our house.”
“We also have a production partner that will be providing a pop-up shop for both weeks of performances, so all the Ramona books and other books by Beverly Cleary will be available for purchase,” notes Amy.
The problems facing the Quimbys, a middle-class family, are problems common to most families, and the family's togetherness in tackling the sacrifices and adjustments required is a clear statement of traditional family values.
Performances of Ramona Quimby run January 27-29 and February 3-5. Friday and Saturday showings will begin at 7:30 pm and Sunday’s performances will begin at 3:00 pm. Ticket information, including youth and group pricing, can be found on Pit & Balcony’s website, www.PitAndBalconyTheatre.com or by calling the box office at (989)754-6587.
16th November, 2023