Jordan Larsen was dressed in rags, stumbling through the dunes of an Arabian desert to find clay to sell at the market. Suddenly he heard the sound of dozens of horses and leapt behind a small rock to hide. To his amazement, forty thieves dressed in black stopped before a large boulder nearby, and with the magic words “Open sesame!” the story of Ali Baba, presented by the Smithfield Youth Theater, unfolded on Sky View’s stage for all to see.
An annual Health Days tradition, the Smithfield Youth Theater presents a different play every year, and they have been doing so for six years, said director and producer Susan Barrus.
Barrus said that every year they switch between themes to keep it different and to please each demographic. “We try and alternate boy/girl. What would appeal more to girls but still have an interest for the boys and what would appeal more to boys but still have an interest for the girls,” she said. “This was a boy year.”
“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” follows the story of young Ali Baba, a poor man whose wife is equally poor. While digging for clay in the desert one day, he stumbles across forty thieves and a magical rock that opens into a cave filled with stolen treasure. All he has to do is say, “Open sesame!”
For those behind the scenes, it took a lot more than a few magic words to put the play together. The plays are fully sponsored by Smithfield City, but they are fully created by volunteers from the community.
Barrus said that work began last June. They rewrote the script to fit the audience, wrote an original score for the play, made new costumes, and held auditions for children ages five and up.
Candace Deffendol, orchestra conductor, composed every piece of music in the play excepting one. This, she said, took close to 100 hours, and she said that working with the orchestra and seeing it all come together was the best part.
“I like to write a lot of piano pieces, but this was the first time I’ve ever written anything for orchestra, so that was really fun to try,” she said.
“I just told her what the theme was going to be for each group, and then she wrote the music and I put the lyrics to it according to their story,” Barrus said.
Barrus said that a big factor in choosing the theme of the play was the costumes. “I just felt like it was time to change costumes. We’ve usually looked kind of renaissance and mediaeval looking, and I thought if we did Ali Baba, we could have a whole new look that we’ve never had before. They really enjoyed that, I think, being in those bright shiny colors,” she said.
The costumes were decided upon last summer and volunteers worked on them from October almost until the play started.
With scout groups and parents building sets and props, Sky View’s AP Art class painting the animals used on stage, volunteers working data entry and the children practicing their lines and adding humor to the script, over 3000 hours of work went into making the play a success, Barrus said.
“It’s successful because everybody pitches in,” she said. “We ask everyone to put in a minimum of four hours for their kids to be in the show. Most people probably put in more like twenty and there are people who put in 50 and 100 hours or more.”
She added, “Our motto is: It’s not about the show, it’s about the children. That helps us keep our perspective.”
Tanner Jones, who played Ali Baba’s brother in the in the play, has been in Smithfield Youth Theater productions for three years. He first tried out after reading about auditions in the newspaper.
He said, “It took at least a couple of weeks to get my lines down. We went through the play a couple of times so we got it right.”
His favorite part was having a “whole big part all by myself.”
Barbara Kent, a Smithfield City council member, said that the play is the most anticipated part of Health Days every year, and the community is very grateful to enjoy it.
Barrus calls it the biggest community effort in Smithfield and something everyone should be proud of.
“There is nothing like this. Kids don’t have this opportunity anywhere else, so I think that makes a big difference. I think the parents recognize that. It’s so wonderful for the kids,” she said.
She added, “You watch them over the years, how they get brave and start to learn about the theater. You start to suddenly see them when they’re ten, and they come in and audition for a speaking part, and they’re just ready to faint, they’re so nervous. And they do it because they’ve been in the background as they were little, and once they are ten they can audition for speaking parts and they just become a part of it.”
After opening night, she said, she considers this year’s play a success.
“I don’t see a single child that doesn’t look unhappy. There are 160 kids who are just thrilled and beaming and feel so accomplished right now. I just love that, and I just appreciate that everyone works so hard to have that happen.”
The play is presented for two nights at 7:00 and is free to the public to enjoy.