Little did Richard and Annette Hutton know that when they first thought about putting on a youth theater production, it would still be going strong two decades later.
It is something that youngsters throughout the 209 have taken part in over the years, a summer outlet that puts them into two weeks of intensive training and rehearsals, preparing for a full stage production.
This year, five separate plays will be produced by the Oakdale-based Hutton’s Hamlet Performing Arts Center, all performed in the church-turned theater on West G Street in Oakdale.
There are between 25 to 35 people in each cast; age of participants ranges from 7 to 20-years-old and there are no auditions. Those taking part in the summer workshops pay a fee of $200 and are then enmeshed in the world of theater for their two-week experience.
“We have done as many as seven and we’ve done as few as one,” Annette Hutton said of putting on the summer productions.
She serves as the director for the workshops and admitted that after a rough start the summer program eventually began to grow in popularity.
“I was shocked how badly the first year went,” Hutton said, chuckling. “Two weeks is a very short amount of time.”
Originally, the students did it all, from building the sets to finding their own costumes, even procuring props. Over the years, however, the Hutton’s Hamlet summer series has added some professionals for lighting, sound effects and more, allowing the students to focus more on the production itself. The end result has been a better overall product for audiences.
“Performance values have increased a lot,” Hutton agreed. “There are no auditions and sometimes I can’t see anyone in the cast who can play a big part. But it can be done … I’ve learned that it doesn’t do any good to worry, the kids rise to the occasion.”
Most of the shows are roughly two-hour productions, with 45 minutes to an hour for each half, as well as a brief intermission.
Hutton’s Hamlet Performing Arts Center, which is in a converted church the couple bought specifically with theater in mind, seats about 80 people and with Friday and Saturday shows for each production, Hutton said they do a good job filling the seats.
Rehearsals for the first summer production got started the day after Memorial Day, with the opening night set for June 8. This year’s opening performance will be “The Snow White Musicapalooza!” It is described as a ‘comic musical retelling of the fairytale classic’ and the audience becomes a live studio audience for a talk show, getting involved in the production.
Friday night shows are at 7 p.m.; with 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows offered on Saturdays.
Also on the summer schedule are: “Pride and Prejudice,” a comic adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, June 22 and June 23; “Rockin’ Robin Hood,” on July 6 and July 7; “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with a twist in the plot having the nieces of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve a murder while their uncles are on vacation, July 20 and July 21; and the season finale is a musical, “Lucky Lucky Hudson,” featuring a teenage writer of a detective novel getting trapped in his own story, taking the stage on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.
Some of the performers come back year after year, including some that live out of the area and spend time with their grandparents locally while being involved in at least one production. There are those who will take part in one two-week workshop and production, others that will be involved in several during the summer.
Annette Hutton has a Music Education degree from University of the Pacific and has also worked extensively in theater in Stockton, Lodi, Columbia, and Groveland over the years, serving as director and musical director for community theaters and children’s theater.
“It’s pretty intense, but very fun,” Hutton said of the Hutton’s Hamlet summer series. “It is very gratifying, but it’s stressful. I’m a person with a short attention span, so two weeks works well for me.”
Each summer theater workshop runs 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday for two weeks, finishing with the three performances. The Performing Arts Center is at 132 W. G St., inside the chapel at the northeast corner of Church Avenue and West G Street in Oakdale. Tickets to the performances are $10 for adults and $5 for ages 12 and under, and can be purchased at Hutton’s Hamlet Music Store, 149 Church Ave., Oakdale, just around the corner from the Performing Arts Center.
“The best thing about what we do, it gives every child a chance to try out theater,” Hutton added. “I love watching these kids grow.”