Student actors bring Hollywood to Mt. Laurel

More than 100 area children from fifth- through eighth-grade comprised the cast, crew, and pit orchestra for “Hay Dayz of Hollywood,” a community education performance by the Mt. Laurel Schools’ spring S.T.E.P. Theater.

The show was held at the Harrington Middle School auditorium on May 15 and 16 and delighted fifth-graders from Hartford School, parents, siblings, grandparents of theater members and the community.

“’Hay Dayz of Hollywood’ is a play that takes place in the 1940s in the setting of Hollywood. We are at a studio that is called MAD Stork Studios,” said M. Christine Jeckot, who serves as director, author, composer and art director for the musical as well as theater manager for the school district.

“The children get to play movie stars,” she said. “They get to play all the types of characters that work behind the scenes at the movies.”

In the play, the actors are shooting movies, she explained. They get to act the parts of director, producer, sound director and more.

“We open with a number called ‘It’s Hollywood,’” she said.

Lexi Holroyd played Lettie Maevis (Dixie), one of the stars of the show, and was the first character to enter the stage.

According to her grandmother, Jan Miller, Lexi has been in seven performances so far with the program.

And Miller has not missed a single one, despite living in Florida.

She travels 1,091 miles to see her granddaughter and helps with costume and hair preparation, she said.

“The show was good,” she said. “I saw these movies on TV as a kid.”

The musical, she said, exposes the kids to genres of music they typically would not listen to on a daily basis.

There is an educational element in each show.

“They learn something from that experience,” she said.

From seeing the young actors, actresses and crew members backstage working together, she said that the atmosphere is nurturing and breeds good feelings as well as lifelong bonds and friendships.

According to show director and composer Jack Jeckot, the students worked since January to prepare for the show, which is a long time to stay focused for youngsters their age, said Christine.

“It’s because they love doing it,” she said. “Children need performing arts programs.”

“The children have done a wonderful job. They really, truly have,” she said.

A special note in the front of the showbill from the Jeckots explains what the children do in the western musical.

It says: “This is a musical play written especially for your children, featuring an original story with numerous characters, songs, costumes and scenery. We have been able to undertake this immensely challenging, but incredibly rewarding process of writing and staging age-appropriate musical plays due to the excellent assistance of our dedicated and hard-working staff as well as a multitude of wonderful volunteers of all ages.”

According to volunteer technical director Bill Ledoux, about eight to 10 parents always help with the production.

“That’s the beauty of this program,” he said. “That’s what makes the difference.”

He has been on staff at StarLite Productions in nearby Moorestown for 13 years and the lighting and audio equipment was rented from the company, he said.

All of the volunteer hours, set design, painting and other tasks are for the kids, he said, and helping them is always fun.

He called the musical “awesome” from his spot in the sound booth.

“They do a really good job,” he said.

The theater at Harrington holds 730 people, Christine said.

“We’re very fortunate in Mt. Laurel to have this beautiful theater,” she said. “It motivates you because it’s such a nice space.”

And the space was full the night of May 15 as the young, bright kids took to the stage.

Earlier in the day, the fifth-graders from Hartford School attended the 8 a.m. performance, laughing, applauding and otherwise completely transfixed, Christine said.

“They reacted so well,” Christine said. “It made all the children out there feel so good.”

“This world would not be what it is without performing arts,” she said.

This is not the first time the play has been produced in Mt. Laurel.

It was also performed in the summer of 2008.

Christine and Jack, who have been teaching for the district for 39 years, wrote the roughly hour and a half long play.

They are currently writing their 14th play, “Little Easy,” to be performed at the summer S.T.E.P. Theatre.

The play is based off of “Thumbelina” and “Tom Thumb,” Christine said.

“We’re very excited,” she added.

So far, the couple has written six songs, ranging in genres from hip-hop to punk.

Interested performers and crew from grades three through eight can register for the season with practices from June 25 to July 26 and performances on July 25 and July 26.

Registration for Mt. Laurel residents is $335, and $355 for out-of-district students.

There are three forms to complete.

Visit hms.mtlaurelschools.org/subsites/John-Jeckot/ or call community education at (856) 231–5891, ext. 1000 for more information.