Putting together a quality theatrical production can be a daunting task for a small organization, but for Jill Panyard, executive director of Encore! Home School Productions, it's business as usual.
The group, which describes itself as “South Central Pennsylvania’s premier drama troupe,” coordinates each year’s musical from start to finish with the help of enthusiastic parents, students and community members.
Lots of thought goes into each year’s production, even before auditions begin, said Panyard, who has been at the helm of the organization for more than a decade.
“I try to determine what I think our kids are capable of, the complexity of the set, how many guys I have and what’s family oriented,” she said.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” won out this year, and Encore performers will be at Trinity High School in Camp Hill on April 6 for a weekend run of the musical.
Nancy Emerson, whose daughter Amber is cast in the role of Esther Smith, works as director of development to get the word out about the annual musical. This is Emerson’s seventh year volunteering and she said that even though the population of students is small, numbering less than 200, there is no lack of talent.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is finding rehearsal space,” Emerson said. This year they practiced at the Elizabethtown Library, Grace Chapel Church and the Perking Point in Hummelstown.
Schedule coordination is yet another obstacle, according to Panyard.
“They’re coming from five different counties, from Lebanon to Dillsburg,” she said, referring to the 40 students, ranging in age from 8 to 18, who will be taking part in this year’s production.
And yet it all comes together, thanks to the dedication of the participants.
“It’s very time intensive,” Emerson said, noting that many of the students still come back year after year to showcase their talents.
Her daughter Amber, who has been acting and singing for years, said audiences will enjoy the heartwarming show that focuses on family dynamics. The Lewisberry junior plans on studying vocal performance, with an emphasis on theater, in college.
“I feel very comfortable on stage,” she said.
Aubrey Wickenheiser of Camp Hill, who plays Eve Finley, said she’s been acting in musicals since kindergarten and will continue to focus on music long after high school graduation.
“I’ll be moving to Nashville to enter into the business side of music,” the senior said.
The well-choreographed efforts of Encore! and the students wouldn’t be complete without the aid of the parents, who work diligently behind the scenes, helping with everything from fundraising to set construction.
“We have a trolley in the show designed by a mom, built by a dad and painted by the students,” Emerson said.
Parents will also help with this year’s pre-show dinner/fundraiser, which will be on April 6 and has been popular in the past.
“Last year, we had 80 people turn out for it and this year we’re expecting 200,” Emerson said.
On the menu this year is marinated chicken with red potatoes and peas and a variety of baked goods.
“We are thankful for the organizations who donate food for the dinner,” she said.
What the homeschooling community lacks in size, they more than make up for in talent, and Emerson promises attendees will be impressed. Students from Encore! productions have previously been nominated for Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards.
“When they hear about the show, they think, oh, that will be nice, but then when they come see it, they’re wowed,” she said.