Students reflect on their experiences as cast members in ‘James and the Giant Peach’

Sydney Swyers, staff writer

After a year of multiple all-day rehearsals, the first ever all-state production of “James and the Giant Peach” was ready for the main stage. Waiting backstage in Wichita’s Century II Theater, senior Joann Armstrong, who played the evil Aunt Spiker, listened to the roar of the audience as 1,600 people shuffled to their seats. It was then that Armstrong realized how fortunate she was to have been casted as one of the leads and how she wouldn’t give up the experience for anything. Although the challenges of the show left mixed feelings in the hearts of various cast members, Armstrong said it was worth it in the end.

“The most challenging part of ‘[James and the Giant] Peach’ was that we only got to meet and rehearse every few months,” Armstrong said. “We had to keep this show in our memory and bodies for a year with months in between where we wouldn’t even think about it. It was very stressful to be working on doing good in school and being involved in community shows while also having to remember everything for ‘Peach.’ Although it was difficult, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

“James and the Giant Peach” was the first Kansas All-State Musical. The storyline involved five magical bugs, an earthworm, ladybug, grasshopper, spider and centipede, who traveled in a giant peach across the ocean in order to save  a young boy named James from his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Auditions took place at the 2015 Thespian Convention and students from all over Kansas were casted. The directors of the show were Max Brown, director at Blue Valley North, and Southwest’s own, Dan Schmidt.

“It’s all about logistics,” Schmidt said. “Getting the kids here to rehearse, getting them fed, working with the other directors — it’s a whole new experience. I’ve had experience with that before, but it just seemed very foreign this time. The positives about working with kids from all over Kansas was that I got to know them  very well and got to learn about their departments and respect them as artists and students. The negative aspects of that would be only working with them short amounts of time. From weekend rehearsals to the show, there was not a lot of time.”

Although the cast was stressed by the limited rehearsals and spaced out rehearsal times, senior Paige Boomer, who played the ladybug, said that even with the circumstances, the cast made many memorable moments when they stepped on the Century II stage opening night.

“I think the most memorable experience was when the bugs made their first appearance at Century II, and you could hear the gasp in the audience,” Boomer said. “And then when you get to climb the peach, you are literally above everyone else, and it’s so incredible to look at all those people. It was kind of magical. In that moment, I suddenly remembered a time from rehearsal when we were all singing ‘Everywhere That You Are,’ and we were all connected. That was the moment we all started to become like a family, and I will never forget it.”

Stage manager senior Brea Clemons said “James and the Giant Peach” gave her an opportunity to understand the process of putting a traveling show together. Throughout the process, everything they did was in preparation to move to a new location, which is unlike normal high school productions. Both cast and crew said they learned new organizational skills and how important communication is.   

“I have loved being a part of this show and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else,” Clemons said. “It has truly been unforgettable, and I am so grateful for the friends I’ve made and the knowledge I’ve learned. This is one of the most memorable show experiences I’ve ever had, and I have all my friends to thank for that. I have so much love and respect for all the incredibly talented cast, crew and production members, and I’m so lucky to consider them family now.”

Aside from making new friends who became family, “James and the Giant Peach” also gave ensemble cast members the chance to play various parts and do things they wouldn’t normally get to do.

“I got to work with people from all over Kansas, and since it was a new show, all of the music was super fresh and exciting,” senior Austin Ragusin said. “Also, I haven’t really had a big dancing part since my sophomore year so it was super fun to do a bunch of hype dances in crazy costumes. It definitely pushed me outside of my comfort level, and I really appreciate the opportunity to try something new.”

Ragusin wasn’t the only cast member who appreciated the experience. Even though Armstrong has previously been in many shows, she said she’s never experienced one quite like “James and the Giant Peach.”

I think that the people in the show have made it so memorable,” Armstrong said. “There is a line from the show that says “what a peculiar family we are” and I think it fits our cast so well. We are from all over Kansas, but we come together to create something magical. I really can’t imagine this last year without all of them in my life.”