Enchanted Playhouse steps up to larger stage

Children’s theater company debuts its first production at the Visalia Fox Theatre with tonight’s opening of “Prince Caspian”

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company will step onto a bigger stage tonight, quite literally.

After 27 years at the Main Street Theater, the children’s theater company will open a new era on Oct. 24 with the debut of its first production on stage of the Visalia Fox Theatre. The stage at the historic landmark is two-thirds larger and the auditorium seats three times as many people, 300 compared to more than 900 seats.

Enchanted Playhouse will be performing “Prince Caspian”, a sequel to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” in what may be the children’s theater’s largest cast ever with 35 players. The plot follows the Pevensie siblings in their return to Narnia, the magical land they discovered within the wardrobe. While Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy are just one year older, their return to Narnia is nearly a millennia later. It’s a fitting transition for the troop as the plays represent the same core characters but in vastly different settings and circumstances as Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company (EPTC) transitions to its new home.

“Being at the Fox has been really good for us,” EPTC board member Russ Roberson said. “Being here means better notoriety and greater exposure.”

Outside of the sheer size, the biggest advantage to moving to the Fox has been technical assistance. Roberson said the Fox has its own lighting and sound technicians to dial in settings before each production. Unlike the Main Street Theater, where volunteers had to stand on ladders to adjust bulbs on the ceiling, the Fox theater’s lighting scaffolds can be lowered to the floor where technicians can work on them safely.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been an adjustment. Roberson, a 16-year veteran of community theater, said this is the first time many of the child actors will have performed with microphones and in front of nearly 1,000 people. Roberson, who is playing the villain king Miraz, said having more room for the fight scenes should help engage the audience with more exciting elements.

“There is something for everyone in this play,” Roberson said.

Prince Caspian also marks the theater company’s first dances incorporated into one of their plays. That’s what attracted Tiffanie Shaw to Prince Caspian. In addition to play Eden, a servant in Miraz’s castle, Tiffanie will be part of two dance scenes in the play. The Act 1 dance will be a forest of trees giving out apples and the Act 2 dance will represent a rushing river Goddess. This is Shaw’s fifth play with EPTC. She said having a larger stage to dance for the scenes is a huge plus for her compared to Main Street Theatre.

“The sound and stage are better and there will be more people coming,” she said. “It’s exciting to have more people get introduced to community theater.”

Joshua Zsido led an emotionally plea for the city not to sell the Main Street Theatre in July 2018 and convinced the city to give the theater company an additional 90 days to raise enough money to purchase it. Ultimately the city decided to sell the theater, but Joshua’s words resonated with the community about the importance of the children’s theater. When he started at EPTC at just 6 years old, Joshua said he had some serious health problems that prevented him from attending school with other kids. At EPTC, he was able to spend time with people his age and be involved in something that didn’t require him to attend overexert himself athletically or attend a public school.

“I made a whole new second family here,” Joshua said. “People should come support live theater because it makes a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Joshua will playing Reepicheep, a swashbuckling mouse who provides much of the production’s comic relief in his 15th play with EPTC. Joshua said he has never been in a lead role because he enjoys putting more emphasis into fewer lines. He said playing Reepicheep has given him an opportunity to bring a lot of personality to character.

“I love making kids laugh,” he said. “I hope it the experience of seeing the play will influence them to one day be a part of this family too.”

The play is definitely a family affair for 14-year-old Ian Montoya. Fresh off a large-scale performance in the Tulare County Office of Education’s production of Newsies, Ian said he wasn’t really interested in jumping back into another play but he looked forward to the opportunity of sharing the stage with older brothers. Samuel Montoya, 18, is playing the lead role of Caspian and Christopher Montoya, 17, is playing Edmund. Ian will be playing the lead dwarf.

“I like the cast themselves a lot,” he said. “You can be yourself and not get stressed out about how to act or who to hang out with. It was a very warm welcome.”

Ian said he has had more fun with Enchanted Playhouse because the actors are given more freedom to bring their characters to life.

“I asked if I could do a Scottish accent and they said yes,” Ian said. “I like that they listened but they still keep things organized.”

EPTC presents “Prince Caspian” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 and Friday, Oct. 25 and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, military and first responders and $6 for students. Tickets can be purchased at www.foxvisalia.org.

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