After being on hiatus since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the well-known and beloved Weaver Arts program makes its return to the Merced Theatre this Friday and Saturday with Beauty and the Beast Jr led by director Jenae Day.
Performances are March 3, at 7 p.m.; and March 4, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.
When most people think of a middle school play, they probably imagine simple DIY costumes, bed sheets painted as backdrops, and is set in an echoey gymnasium — perhaps a small stage or assembly hall if you’re lucky.
On the contrary, the aspiring artists of Weaver Middle School are fortunate enough to have an arts program robust enough to allow them the historic Merced Theatre in downtown Merced — complete with sets and costumes that are all on the same level. Local educators say such experiences are second to none when it comes to one’s personal development, and can even help some discover and explore their dreams.
“The Weaver program has developed many students in their leadership skills, confidence, and communication skills that have carried them through the Weaver School District, through high school, and even college,” Day says. “This year we have an alumni student, Robert Davey, that attends Fresno State and is a music education major. He has come back to observe and participate in our rehearsals for observation time required in his college classes. A fun tidbit about him is that he is one of our previous Gaston characters in the Beauty and the Beast Jr. play that our district put on in 2015-2016.”
Student Ashley Stanglin, cast in the lead role of Belle, says the experience is like being behind the scenes of a movie. “Learning and working on this show has been very cool, and I love how we saw how everything comes together, how the props are made, and how we make a lot of memories along the way.”
Another student actor, Aubri Villa, cast as Cogsworth, adds: “I would really recommend theatre. It gets you out of your comfort zone. It’s really helped [me] over the years.”
A notable new addition to the program, and aligned with the show’s bookworm protagonist Belle, is that there will be a book exchange at every public show in the lobby. To make it extra special, the booth will be managed by Belle and the Beast (Ashley Lopez and Kayden Morris, respectively). So, if you have a book that you are tired of reading, bring it with you to the show and exchange it while also getting a photo op with the leads of the play.
“During our auditions, our Belle character, Ashley, auditioned using a book prop as she sang a song,” Day says. “It hit me at that moment how Belle was all about books, and an idea began to form about having a book exchange in the lobby of the theatre during shows to promote reading and to show how reading is an adventure to places known and unknown. … Of all possible plays to promote reading, Beauty and the Beast lends itself to doing so.”
When the cast was asked by the Times what advice that they would like to give to other aspiring artists, here is what a few had to say:
- “If I were to give future theatre kids advice, I would tell them to really let their talent out and don’t worry about others’ opinion,” Villa says.
- “I would tell everyone that’s interested in the performing arts to be yourself and take pride in what you do! Say your lines loud and proud,” says Analia Servin, cast as Babette.
- “I would say reach for your dreams and not give up no matter what, you can do it,” says Rylin Gastelum, cast as Gaston.
As expected, a production of such a scale requires quite the extensive roster:
Principal Characters: Ashley Lopez Stanglin as Belle, Kayden Morris as Beast/Prince, Rylin Gastelum as Gaston, Jaxson Spielman as Lumiere, Aubri Villa as Cogsworth, Emma Mitchell as Mrs. Potts, Analia Servin as Babette, Gwenevere Harmelin as Madame de la Grange Bouche, Lily Jones as Silly Girl #1, Olivia Berry as Silly Girl #2, Alejandra Espinoza as Silly Girl #3, Juan Pulido as Maurice, Jordenne Hunt as Chip, Harper Klups as Madame D’Arque, Mariah Daniel as the Enchantress, Haydin Gatelum as Narrator 1, Evan Sanchez as Narrator 2, Payton Copus as Narrator 3, Mariah Daniel as Narrator 4, and John Curry, Michal Lomeli, Jackie Spielman, as well as Elias Villa as Prologue Narrators.
Villagers: Payton Copus as the Bookseller, Evan Sanchez as the Shepherd Boy, Ryann Williams as the Fishmonger, Kristina Cortez as the Milkmaid, Delilah Lee as the Butcher, Arianna Velasco as the Baker, Jacob Borrel as a Villager, Kaylin Ortega as the Candle Seller, Zoe Gonzalez as a Villager, Aubrey Yee as Lady w/ Baby, Ariyanna Chavez as Aristocratic Lady, Samantha Mercado as Aristocratic Lady, Haydin Gastelum as Sausage Curl Girl, Isabella Lopez Daboin as Egg Seller, Arianna Madrigal Radillo as a Villager, and Jolette Mata-Vega as Lady with a Cane.
Enchanted Objects: Ximena Barajas, Mia Villareal, Yaretzi Vargas Cruz, Harper Klups, Emma Sanchez, Jazlene Damigo, Mariah Daniel, Novalee Xiong, Kashua Her, Elaina Chang, Aimee Purslow, Olivia Lee, Rhema Gonzalez, Daleyza Renteria, Lexie Moua, Alisson Equihua, O’Ryan Booker, and Bailer Her.
Wolves: Kashua Her, Mia Villareal, and Novalee Xiong
Statues: Jacob Borrel and Evan Sanchez
The Production Crew & Staff: Jenae Day as Director, Elizabeth Harmelin as Music Director/Set Design/Acting Coach, Celest Gutierrez as Choreographer/Hairdresser, Allison Hunt as Stage Manager/Prop Designer, Philip Buckle as Acting Coach, David Hamm on Sound, Jeff Sanders as a Sound Consultant, Heather Holt as Lighting Designer, Andrea Hogue as Lighting Assistant, Melissa Sanders on Spotlight/Light Ques, Sarah Smith as Make-up Designer, Deja Mitchell as Hair and Make-up Manager, Bridgett Castillo as Make-up Assistant, Julia Soto as Hair and Make-up Assistant, Laura Soto as Hair and Make-up Assistant, Sabrina Butler as Costume Manager, Jennifer Davey as Stage Production Assistant, Esperanza Flores as Stage Production Assistant, Lisa Wever as Stage Production Assistant, Lisa Weber as Stage Production Assistant, Amy Whitfield as Stage Production Assistant, Jose Flores on Program Design, Isabel Reyes on Spotlight, Isabella Ybarra on Spotlight, Sherry O’Brien as Photographer, Kaytlynn Mobley as Publicity and Promotion, and Brandon Abarca, Razia Batool, James Hunt, Jackson Mitchell as Backstage Assistants.