Melanie Brown stands in the middle of a half-built set surrounded by a crowd of children ranging in age from 5 to 12. She adjusts their positions for an early scene of a show that they will premiere to local audiences in a week's time.
"We're going to run through it. It might be a mess, but that's OK," she tells them with enthusiasm as she walks back to her table in the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center.
What follows is what Brown likes to call "creative chaos," and through the process of the cast learning their lines and places, there is a trace of an organized show — one that will take audiences on an action-packed adventure with a magical old race car that some may remember from their childhoods — Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The Auburn Area Community Theatre's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr." will premiere Thursday, Oct. 3, and will feature a cast of 41 children. The show is a musical adventure, and cast is working hard to perfect dance numbers and songs that will carry audience members through the hour-long performances taking place Oct. 3-5, 7, 10 and 11 at 6:30 p.m. and Oct. 5 and 12 at 4 p.m.
Brown, who is directing her ninth children's production with the community theater, said the creative chaos of rehearsals is reflective of the show's story in a beautiful way.
"There’s just so much about loving and supporting and helping, and this dad just keeps trying to do things for his children, and it's kind of inspiring," she said. "He’s struggling, but he works so hard and has all these different misadventures, and then it all works out in the end.
"In my director’s notes I talk about how that’s kind of the theme of this play to me, a controlled creative chaos held together with a lot of love ... and that’s what putting the play together is like — there's a lot of love."
While there are many personalities within the show, the star is the car herself, which will be played by five actors, each holding a piece of the vehicle as it moves around the stage.
"In the book as well as in the play, Chitty is almost a sentient creature. She is aware, she loves the children, you can tell she is scared when the junk man is going to crush her, and then when the family decides to buy her, she is happy," Brown said. "I like the idea of Chitty being played by people because the way she is written into the story, she's like a person. It's fun watching them act and react to everything that happens on stage when she is onstage."
Brown said the show is meant to be enjoyed by all ages, and those who wish to attend a performance should plan to purchase a ticket ahead of time. Though there are eight performances, the event space is small and sells out quickly. Performances will take place in the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting auburnact.org and are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Oct. 7 will be Family Night, and all tickets will be $8. For group rate information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds from ticket sales go toward supporting future shows, which take a village to finalize. For "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr.," there are 41 actors; 21 teens helping with lights, choreography and sound, among other things; and a lot of parents chipping in to make props, teach the kids their songs and sew costumes — of which there are more than 100 for the upcoming show alone. All community members involved in AACT productions are volunteers.
"We are professional actors and we get paid in candy," Brown said, laughing and adding that she will give out pieces of candy to actors who answer questions correctly. "You have to be passionate about the end process. Our main goal is to create a positive theater experience for these young actors because there are so many things they can learn, so many life skills that they learn from being in a production like this. You learn to be a part of something bigger than yourself, to work together, to listen."
And the adults who participate do it because they love it, she said.
"You have to love it, love the kids, love the process, because the process is messy," Brown said.
Brown recognized some of her team members who have worked tirelessly on "Chitty" — Cora Connelly, set work; Rebecca Miller, costumes; Angela Simpson, musical director; Drew Washburn, props; and Abby Bowling, stage manager and high school student.
For more information on the upcoming show or the Auburn Area Community Theatre, visit auburnact.org.