"Now that is a very unusual hat," says a girl as she wonders at the red and white hat in the middle of the stage. "I wonder what's under a hat such as that. It could be a creature they call the Ga-Zat ..."

But it's not a Ga-Zat, but rather the hat of a cat, who starts off this colorful, fun, completely-in-sync musical "Seussical Junior," based on the rhymes of the beloved storyteller Dr. Seuss.

The girl is McKenna Smith, a seventh-grader from Bourbonnais, one of the participants of the Bradley-Bourbonnais High School Summer Youth Theatre Experience. You can see the camp's participants perform July 14-16.

Like her character, Smith has big "thinks," too, and sees the camp as a stepping stone to get into BBCHS productions in high school. "I felt like it was a step closer to getting more strategy in acting," Smith said. "It's a great cast, it's a wonderful show and lots of music."

This is BBCHS's first year putting on the two-month theater camp for kids 6 to 17 years old.

There are 48 students participating from all over, from Peotone to Gilman, training their voices and improv skills, working on physically developing characters and even learning to make props.

Of course, one of the most fun workshops was where the young actors learned to transform animals into human characters.

"Because the show is all animals involved, [our director] had us show what the animal would be like as an animal," said Caleb Swick, of Wilmington. "How it translates to a person, how it talks, how it acts, how it interacts with other animals."

Swick, 17, plays Horton, who he calls "just a giant dork who cares about everyone around him."

And one of the most challenging parts about the show is that it's made of characters the audience is so familiar with. "You have to be over the top with this type of show, since it is based on books children have grown up with or they've seen Jim Carrey do," Swick said. "Every single line rhymes, so with memorizing you have to make sure you read the lines in time with the music, so it sounds like poetry."

Jesus Vera, 16, of Bradley, says he sees himself in his character, The Cat in the Hat. "I've learned that not everything will be staged out for you; you have to give ideas. Sometimes, you need to improvise to make the show as good as it could be."

All profits from the ticket sales go to the BBCHS Theatre Department, said director David Morgan, who hopes the camp will continue to grow. The camp's staff volunteered their time to keep costs low, and the camp was opened up to the surrounding communities to give kids something positive to do. Participants paid $150 for early registration, $200 for late registration. Plans are underway for next year's camp and show, "The Lion King."

Participants also got out into the community this summer, performing at the Kankakee Farmers' Market, the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival and the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society's Les Artisans Arts and Crafts Fair.

But the most rewarding performance might've been at the Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism, where the students sang for the gallery's artists and families, then learned about their art.

"I believe in the power of the arts and the ability of theater to change lives," Morgan said. "We can ... help make the Kankakee area a more vibrant theater scene with a wealth of people of all ages participating."

And help introduce a new generation to theater, Morgan said, adding that it's OK if the younger audience gets a little rowdy.

"I think little kids will really enjoy it because of the humor and how cool it is," Smith said. "And it's Dr. Seuss, so, I mean, a lot of adults will love it because it brings them back to childhood."


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