The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Seussical Jr.

When: Thursday, Jan. 18, through Saturday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m. each night 
Where: Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry 
Tickets: $15 general admission, $12 for students and seniors, available at the door or online 
More info:

Stepping down
STEPs does Seussical Jr., says goodbye

By Angie Sykeny

 After 10 years of youth theater productions, camps and workshops, the Specialized Theater Enrichment Program, better known as STEPs, is closing its doors — but not without one final production. 

Seussical Jr. opens Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Derry Opera House.  
The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2000, is based on a combination of Dr. Seuss stories, particularly  Horton Hears a Who!, Horton Hatches the Egg and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz.”
“It’s been a favorite show of ours,” said Yvonne Sarafinas, STEPs founder and director with her sister Nicole Murray. 
The two were involved with a Seussical production at another local youth theater program prior to starting STEPs. 
“Kids love it and it’s a great family show, so it seemed like a no-brainer to do it as our final production,” Sarafinas said.
Murray and Sarafinas also wanted to do a show that offered a large number of parts to give as many kids an opportunity to perform as possible. The Seussical Jr. cast features around 20 kids in grades 8 through 11, five of whom are first-time STEPs performers. 
“It’s a great show for that,” Murray said. “It’s got a million different parts, from lead roles to a couple-of-lines parts to dancing and singing roles, so every kid gets featured in some way.” 
STEPs has a unique approach for its productions that entails fewer rehearsal periods and an emphasis on theater education and performance techniques as opposed to only rehearsing the production itself. Rather than teaching kids exactly how to play their characters, the program allows them to interpret and develop their characters in their own way. They have the freedom to control their characters’ mannerisms, tone and pace and give their input on costumes and makeup. 
“It’s all about enhancing [the kids’] skills. The challenge is for them to take those skills that they’ve learned and incorporate them into building their characters on their own,” Murray said. “We give everything over to them and ask them what they want the show to look like.”  
With only nine rehearsal periods for the Seussical Jr. production, the kids are also expected to work on their roles outside of rehearsals.  
“They do great with that; we’ve never had any issues,” Sarafinas said. “We’re all on the same page as far as our commitment and passion for theater.” 
While working with other local youth theater programs prior to starting STEPs, Murray and Sarafinas noticed that many kids were frustrated by the conundrum of being turned down for roles due to a lack of experience, and lacking experience because they can’t land a role. They created STEPs as a solution to that problem: a program with a focus on education so that kids could acquire the skills needed to play any role, even without performance experience. 
“I can give our kids any show,” Murray said, “and all they have to do is memorize the lines. Beyond that, they have the education to fill whatever role they want.” 
STEPs launched in 2009 with a summer theater camp, then grew to produce a couple big shows every year. Past shows have included Godspell, Little Shop of Horrors, Fame, Chicago and others. 
With many STEPs kids going on to get major roles in their school and community theater productions, Murray and Sarafinas said they’ve accomplished what they set out to do, and that it’s simply time for them to move on and focus on their families. 
“We’ve prided ourselves on helping kids believe in themselves,” Sarafinas said. “We’ve given them a chance to get roles that they never thought they could get, and seeing their confidence grow has been the best thing for us.” 


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