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Student actors practice their roles as zombies for Jacqueline West's play "Under the Bed." Performances are Nov. 2 and 3.

Take a look 'Under the Bed'

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On a dreary Wednesday afternoon, the controlled yet chaotic atmosphere of a middle school auditorium explodes with creative youthful energy as co-directors Julie Martin and Helene Olson-Reed prepare for rehearsal.

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The two are managing the prepping, primping and fine-tuning of the Twin Bluff Middle School's fall musical and the world premiere of a Red Wing resident's work "Under the Bed," set for Friday Nov. 2 and Saturday Nov. 3.

The play was presented to Martin just over a year ago by poet and children's writer Jacqueline West.

"We have been considering when to do it and this fall seemed to be the right time," Olson-Reed said.

West is a local author, making quite a name for herself including a run on the New York Times bestseller list for the fictional book "The Shadows" the first piece of the Elsewhere series.

"Under the Bed" is West's first crack at an original children's performance aimed for young actors.

"It's a longish one-act play about middle school and fear -- two elements that go together, in my experience, like math homework and erasers," West said.

Students have enjoyed the original play - noting it's unlike anything they have read or heard before.

"Oh my gosh, this is going to be so much fun," sixth-grader Erin Jezierski recalled thin king after reading the script. "It's about kids that go to the Under Bed to fill up fear collectors so bad dreams can be made."

West has attended a handful of the rehearsals, adding another level of excitement to the highly anticipated performance; she blogs her experiences.

"To see and hear words that I wrote coming out of real people's mouths, without any papers or print between us, was truly something special. Plus the kids are smart, heartbreaking and so, so funny," she wrote.

"The students absolutely love it when Jacqueline comes to watch rehearsals," Olson-Reed commented. "They love her input on how she sees their character."

Sixth-grader Maddie Smith gushed about West: "It's really fun working with her because she is an author, she laughs and giggles about what she reads and pictures things about the play and tells us what she thinks."

"They treat her like a rock star," Martin added.

The cast, ranging from grade 5 to 7, tops out around 50 students involved in acting, singing, dancing, building sets, making costumes and creating posters or programs. Additional help for the premiere includes teachers Matt Quinn working with set crew students, Sara Shannon on costumes and Ann Petersen helping students with public relations.

"We have excellent help from co-workers," Martin added.

A few high school students also have stepped up to lend a hand in the evolving production process. Belen Benway coaches the choreography and Tori Miller is the stage manager.

Auditions for the play were Sept. 10 and rehearsals began three days later.

"It is interesting to work with the playwright," Olson-Reed explained. "Jacqueline has very specific ideas of how the character should be and how they should look."

Appreciative of West's guidance on basically every decision that needs to be made, Olson-Reed and Martin said the collaborative efforts are note-worthy.

And it's obvious they have done this sort of thing before. "Under the Bed" marks the sixth show the duo has directed together.

"I think she is brilliant," Olson-Reed said of Martin.

Witty, comical, charismatic and oh so patient, the women are able to maintain their roles as directors, leaning on each other's strengths to continuously create top-notch performances.

"She is extremely creative and talented," Martin said of Olson-Reed. "I appreciate her attention to detail and her musical gifts. I think part of it is we are comfortable enough to be honest with each other, both equally serious and dedicated about having the best possible show whether we are working in an adult group or with students."

With dress rehearsal looming closer, it is easy to see the students' sheer delight in the show - and they are not the only ones.

"The cast and crew of the show are clever, funny, enthusiastic and creative -- considering how constantly the read-through made me chortle to myself, I am sure, thanks to all of them, that the show itself will rock," West adds.

At a glance...

What: Jacqueline West's play "Under the Bed"

When: 7 p.m. Friday Nov. 2 and 2 p.m. Saturday Nov. 3

Where: Twin Bluff Middle School, 2120 Twin Bluff Road

Cost: Free, free-will donations are accepted

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Stacy Bengs-Silverberg
Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.
(651) 301-7880
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