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Kickin' up dust with Pecos Bill

Legendary cowboy's tall tales come to life in student theater group

Posted: Friday, May 08, 2009

Pecos Bill, legendary American cowboy, is set to kick up some dust on the Juneau Douglas High School stage over the next two weekends, lassoing tornados as he goes.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The high school's third and final production of the year opens tonight with a performance at 7 p.m. at the JDHS auditorium.

Like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill is a character whose experiences are told as tall tales - exaggerated stories of his strength and ability. Raised by coyotes, Bill formed the Grand Canyon with his boot heel, rides a cougar and carries a rattlesnake lasso. It may come as no surprise that director Michaela Moore is from Texas, as is the playwright, Linda Daugherty.

Moore said she and Lucas Holland, her creative partner, settled on the character of Pecos Bill before they'd found the play, and that they were lucky to come up with a script.

Moore said the cartoonish aspect of the characters has offered the young actors the perfect chance to push the boundaries of their personal expression.

"It's a totally different style of acting that the kids get to experience," she said. "They realize that they have to be bigger than life, they have to have huge gestures and huge expressions."

In some cases, the play has attracted shyer kids who might not have auditioned for a more serious piece, Moore said. By lucky chance, all 35 kids who auditioned were given parts. Moore said she was thrilled not to have to turn anyone away. Its also the first time she can remember that each actor has had a speaking role.

The play brings Pecos Bill's experiences to life, including his legendary ride on a tornado. It's light-hearted and fun, Moore said, and is grounded in the idea of personal destiny.

Moore said the kids' enthusiasm and the freedom they felt with the script will be easy to see from the audience.

"They just shine, you can see how much fun they're having."

Students also fabricated some of the costumes, using scraps from the school costume supply box and things they scrounged from home. The makeup ideas students came up with didn't need alterations, she said.

Moore said she constantly pushes her students to produce their best work, trying to exceed both the students' and the audience's expectations.

"I want the kids to be proud of what they've done," she said. "And I don't want anyone to come to my show and say 'Oh, it's just a high school show.'"

This is the second season that Moore has directed a family-friendly production. She said she likes to do a play for kids at the end of the year, partly to spark the interest of younger actors. It was through watching plays as a kid that encouraged Moore to get involved in theater.

"Children's theater is so big where I come from in Texas, and there's not a lot of it here," she said. "So I wanted to add that show every year to give something to the kids and have them really start to see our theater department when they are young."

While geared toward a younger crowd, the play is for all ages and will be entertaining for adults and teens, Moore said.

Performances are at 7 p.m. tonight and next Friday and Saturday nights, May 15 and 16, and at 2 p.m. next Saturday, May 16, at the JDHS auditorium.



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