“New Kid,” the next performance on the UAA Theatre and Dance schedule, is a production aimed at Anchorage’s younger audience of elementary-aged students. The small cast of four, clad in colorful, nostalgic costumes, have worked hard performing the play throughout the last few months and are bringing it to the UAA stage at the end of the month.
“Performing for kids is just the greatest thing in the world. There is no audience that is more honest and more willing to give you all of their energy, and when you’re on stage performing, the energy you get from the audience is kind of a big deal,” Ben Hagensieker, a theater major portraying Mug, the bully in the story, said.
The play follows the life of Nick, a young boy who moves to Alaska with his mother from his country of Homeland. While in Alaska, Nick faces challenges common for any new kid, including bullying, exclusion and a language barrier.
To portray Nick’s inability to understand the Alaskans, the playwright, Dennis Foon, wrote their lines in a fake language called Gibberish, while Nick and his mother speak English.
“The device of Gibberish makes the piece unique,” Nova Cunningham, assistant professor of theater and director of the show, said. “The made-up language makes every person in the audience feel what it’s like to be a new kid.”
While it is a humorous play, “New Kid” also comes with important underlying themes of bullying, inclusion and tolerance that almost everyone faced as a child, even if they were never the new kid.
“I hope that the audiences realize that just because you come from different places or speak different languages or whatever the difference may be, we’re all still human,” Emani Secret, a sophomore majoring in social work and acting as the mother in the show, said. “We tend to go through the same experiences, just in a different way.”
Alexandra McCall, a senior theater major playing the role of Mench, a girl who befriends Nick, feels that although the play is aimed at children, adults can learn something valuable from the performance as well.
“Adults can take away a similar message [as kids], but they can also get the more complex message layered under that, which is that cultural differences are something that you can see past,” McCall said. “It puts you in the position of hopefully understanding how people from different places are actually a lot like you, even if they don’t speak your language or use your same customs.”
Many of the students involved in “New Kid” have had an experience similar to the main character’s, including Jarett Hardy, the actor playing Nick himself.
“I’m actually not from Alaska, so I know that feeling of being the new kid and how it’s almost as if everybody is speaking a different language when they talk about their childhood experiences together and you know nothing about what or who they’re talking about,” Hardy said.
“New Kid” includes a lot of firsts for the department and the students involved. For instance, it is the first UAA production to be taken on the road. The cast has traveled to various elementary schools as far as Denali and Girdwood to put on the show throughout the semester.
Along with the new touring aspect, “New Kid” is the first UAA performance for freshman Hardy and senior Hagensieker and the first production for the scene and costume designers, Myranda Bailey and Kayla Gonzalez, respectively.
“Working in a production is a lot different than doing a costume design for a homework assignment,” Gonzalez said. “Even if you like your decisions, someone else might not, and you have to accommodate and come to a common ground.”
Despite everything being so new for many of the students involved in the production, cast and crew alike emphasized how overwhelmingly positive the school’s reactions to “New Kid” have been while on tour.
“It’s 200 kids laughing hard at the jokes, 200 kids singing along to the music at scene changes. It’s a mass of kids having a great time, and it’s really fun to listen to,” Cunningham said.
“New Kid” will have two performances at UAA, the first on Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m. and the second on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. in the Harper Theater, Room 129 of the Fine Arts Building. Tickets are available for purchase on www.artsuaa.com, $19.99 for adults, $14.99 for seniors and military personnel and $9.99 for students.