Stage rats

Boys & Girls Club program offers kids a chance to dance, act and sing

Triple Threat director Samantha Perry and the young cast of <i>The Princess Bride</i> (clockwise from left): Perry, Soleil Goodlife (Buttercup), Cecelia Mahar (Westley), Nathan Starkey (grandpa) and Chloe Starkey (granddaughter).

Triple Threat director Samantha Perry and the young cast of The Princess Bride (clockwise from left): Perry, Soleil Goodlife (Buttercup), Cecelia Mahar (Westley), Nathan Starkey (grandpa) and Chloe Starkey (granddaughter).

Photo by jason cassidy

The Boys & Girls Club presents The Princess Bride, Thursday-Saturday, May 21-23, 7 p.m.
Suggested donation: $1-$6
Boys & Girls Club
601 Wall St.

Samantha Perry is a force of nature. Gregarious and good-humored with a deep, ready laugh and a reputation as a local actress who throws her all into big roles (e.g., Nancy Spungen in Sid and Nancy), she seems to have the ideal personality for running a children’s theater troupe. And luckily for Chico’s youth and the community at large, that’s exactly what she does.

Three years ago, Perry—a 25-year veteran of local theater—created the Triple Threat theater arts program at the Chico Boys & Girls Club, the nonprofit organization that is, as the organization’s website says, “dedicated to ensuring that all young people in the community [have] access to a safe and positive place to go in the critical after-school hours.” And the club’s 40,000-square-foot downtown campus has plenty of available space for staging indoor or outdoor theater events and provides an ideal setting and support system for Perry’s theater arts program.

“Triple threat” is a theater colloquialism for a performer who can sing, dance and act, and Perry’s program is designed to reach young people at an age when they can develop the confidence and skills necessary to be proficient at all three.

As Perry put it during a recent rehearsal with the kids for an upcoming theatrical adaptation of The Princess Bride, “My mission was to create a theater department for the Boys & Girls Club that would: a) be recognized as a cool children’s theater, and b) have the ability to fund itself through the next year by presenting a finished production to the community that we could request donations to attend.

“I presented that idea to the administration and board members as sort of a ‘pipe-dream,’” Perry said, adding that after a few years of fine-tuning, the mission has been realized.

“The first year I didn’t really know what I was doing, and we staged The Wizard of Oz. I thought it was cute, and it went over well, but I realized I really didn’t want to do things that every other children’s theater group does, so last year we adapted Star Wars, and it was a huge success—despite the weather!” Perry said, laughing. “We’d planned everything for an outdoor presentation, but on the day of the show, Chico got the biggest hailstorm of the year, and I had to rush to the club at 8 in the morning and build an indoor set, that day! We still had 200 people in the audience and ended up turning people away.”

Sitting in the sunny outdoor play area at the club with Perry, co-director/co-adaptor Steven McKeever and stage manager Emily Adams, and observing The Princess Bride cast “running lines” and rehearsing fencing moves, it became obvious that this troupe of 25 enthusiastic actors (ages 6–12) was getting a lot out of the experience.

“A great ‘side-effect’ of the program is that is has helped so many kids break out of their shells and become better students in general,” said Perry.

Ten-year-old Cecelia Mahar, who will play the part of Westley (aka, the Man in Black, etc.), explained that the program has helped her blossom. “I’ve always had sort of a silly personality and Sam and the other directors have helped me bring out that fun side and make it something good instead of something I have to hold back.”

Her friend Isabel Aranza, 12 (playing master swordsman Inigo Montoya)—who Perry said “was incredibly shy when I first met her”—chimed in: “Now I actually speak up in class rather than be a mouse,” she said with a giggle. “And I’m more outgoing than I was before.”

The Triple Threat program is open to all Boys & Girls Club members. Sign-ups are at the beginning of each school year.