The lighter side

As a performer and musician, Dennis McGraw takes both roles seriously.

But when it comes to working with middle school students on their theatrical productions, McGraw takes a lighter approach.

“Kids don’t want to do serious plays or Shakespeare — they want to do fun comedies or fantasies — and what we’re trying to do is get them excited about theater,” said McGraw, coordinator for the Kauai Performing Arts Center. “I know, years ago, Macbeth was picked for the middle school students, and before I worked there and I got the job, I remember kids complaining to me for years about how Macbeth was picked while they were in middle school, so I always try to pick fun things.”

This year, 34 students from Kapaa, Chiefess Kamakahelei and Waimea Canyon middle schools will be performing three short plays at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Seventeen students from Kapaa Middle School will be performing “No Show,” a one-act comedy play written by Alan Haehnel and directed by Robert Carrasco, in which an entire theater class attempts to put on an impromptu play to avoid getting a failing grade on their final exam.

Eight students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, meanwhile, will be performing “Smarty Pants,” a short 30-minute comedy written by Bradley Hayward and directed by McGraw.

The play outlines the trials experienced by a bright student named Dallas who must navigate through a new advanced placement course in which “there’s more Play-Doh than Plato and more coloring than Van Gogh,” according to a short synopsis of the play.

Nine cast members from Waimea Canyon Middle School will also be performing “Three Doors to Death or… The Choice is Yours,” an interactive murder mystery play involving audience participation that was written by Keith Jackson and directed by Waimea High School senior Sera Shimomura.

The Waimea Canyon Middle School play will mark the first time that a student has directed one of the school plays.

“I haven’t seen the play yet, but I’m pretty sure she has done a real good job with it,” McGraw said. “If this works, I may try to do this more extensively and have seniors direct all three plays each year for their senior project.”

The most exciting part, he said, is seeing the growth of the kids over the nearly four months that they spend rehearsing their plays after school.

Tickets for the two weekend shows, which are available from cast members or at the door, are $6 for adults and $3 for students.

Info: McGraw, 651-2417

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