AACT rehearsals

The White Witch (Soojin Park) takes Edmund (Knowl Garris) under her spell. Park will play the role of Sally Cotter in AACT's upcoming production of "Sally Cotter and the Censored Stone."

The Auburn Area Community Theatre is opening its doors to members of the community this month for a magical parody presented by some of Auburn’s youngest thespians. 

Entering the spring session of the 2021 “Still Standing” Line-up, the Young Performers group will bring the story of young Sally Cotter and power of dreams to life in their upcoming performances of "Sally Cotter and the Censored Stone."

For Brantley Waller, director of the play and a senior majoring in Theatre, Visual Media and Spanish at Auburn University, finding the time to lead this year’s youth play at AACT started over a year ago during her time as an assistant director for AACT's "High School Musical Jr." production. 

“At AACT, it's tradition for the assistant director of the teen play that year to become the director for the next year,” Waller said. “Last year, I worked under Bailey Murphy.” 

It was during this time as an assistant director that Waller began cultivating relationships with last year’s cast and researching plays for her own production the next spring. Relying on the teens’ ubiquitous love for Harry Potter, Waller said that is when she realized the perfect play was in front of her the entire time. 

“Working with the kids last year, I realized they loved Harry Potter and I was researching different play scripts that I thought would work in the parameters of what this group could pull off,” Waller said. “When I found the script for Sally Cotter, I saw it was a parody for Harry Potter and it was sort of perfect because I knew the kids loved Harry Potter and it allowed for a really big cast.

“It had the right cast size, it was the right amount of time, the energy was perfect and it had a subject material that I knew my kids would enjoy doing.”

And so the decision was made, for her first major play production, Waller would lead her cast down the funny and mystical path of Sally Cotter as she embarks on a day in the life of a student at Frogbull Academy. 

While Waller prepared to join the group of AACT alumni directors, she also faced a unique circumstance that no other director before her had endured — Covid-19. According to Waller, taking on a labor such as theater production during a pandemic was no small feat. 

“It's already hard to do theater, but it's a labor I endure with a lot of love,” Waller said. “However, Covid has made it something that's a whole other level.”

According to Waller, changes to protect the cast along with the audience have been made and are being made every day through the process. The casting and call backs for the play were all done virtually.  Masks will be worn by the cast during the performance, creating a unique challenge of voice projection for the young performers after Waller’s decision to forgo microphones. The cast will also have to be mindful of social distancing while the crew must take on the task of sanitizing every prop after each performance.  

“Everything we do has had to be tweaked by looking through the lens of Covid,” Waller said. “I would say half of my energy is dedicated to Covid problem solving.

“I don't think I originally thought it would be this much of a burden yet it has been. But, it's something I’m happy to put the energy towards because safety is the priority here.” 

According to Melanie Brown, Childrens’ Theatre director and education director for AACT, the pandemic will not only just affect the young cast. 

“It will be difficult for our directors coming from Auburn who are used to hitting it hard for six to eight hours a day,” Brown said. “With Covid, we work with shorter time frames and unique circumstances.”

“However, I’m extremely excited for Brantley because this will be our third year partnering with the Auburn BFA Theatre program to provide these young, emerging directors with much-needed real world experience.”

And while Waller initially worried about the introduction of new protocols, she stated that the young performers have been more receptive and helpful than ever in making the transition. 

“It's been a blessing for sure,” Waller said. “The kids show up, they wear their mask, they sanitize and they come ready to perform each day.” 

As for the cast, Waller is particularly excited for the role of Sally Cotter, who is being played by Soojin Park. 

“I had a strong feeling from Soojin’s audition that she was the one who would be our Sally,” Waller said. “We knew that, with Sally being on stage 90 percent of the show, we needed someone who was a really strong performer in this role.

“Soojin came in, she had an amazing stage presence and a grasp on comedic timing. She actually did a John Mulaney monologue for her audition, which was a very strong choice, and, after call backs, it was really her energy and the fact that she is a very charming person for the role.”

Performances are scheduled for Feb. 25-27, March 1 and March 4-6 at 6:30 p.m. with matinees on Feb. 27 & March 6 at 3:30 p.m at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center off Opelika Road. 

Distanced seating will be part of the experience for attendees, as will required face coverings. 

AACT is asking that families and those wishing to sit together to purchase all of their tickets at one time to ensure they will be seated together. Children, student and senior tickets are $8. Adult tickets are $10. 

For residents who are looking for a way to enjoy the play by alternate means, AACT is  also offering a pre-recorded version of the show to watch On-Demand from March 8-10. Tickets are $10 for a single viewer, or $25 for a family pass. 

For those who are coming out, Waller wants the message of simple rather than simplistic to resonate with the audience for the show that she says will be sure to garner more than a few laughs. 

“I really want people to know how the power of reading can truly transform a reality,” Waller said. “I love reading and reading has the power to change perspective. This play transforms the power of reading and the power that my young people have to sculpt the reality of what they want from this play.”

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