What is a classroom to do when the teacher disappears? According to Gina Jones, who plays the title character in Asheville Creative Arts‘ production of the children’s story Miss Nelson Is Missing, initially there’s a good bit of spitball and eraser throwing. But the liberation quickly gives way to a harsher reality: A substitute teacher who is far worse arrives on the scene to torment them all. And so begins the quest to find Miss Nelson. The play opens at N.C. Stage Company on Thursday, July 16.
“This was a favorite book growing up,” says ACA founder and director Robbie Jaeger. “The title is meaningful to many generations — our parents read it to us, our peers today are now reading it to their kids, and kids are loving it as much now as when it was originally published in the ’70s.”
The book, written by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall, was adapted for the stage by Joan Cushing. In a preview, Cushing and cast members will appear at Malaprop’s and share some of the show’s original songs. “We chose this script because it’s well-told and the themes are important — respect for others and not taking what you have for granted,” says Jaeger. “These are all valuable lessons, and that they are presented in an entertaining and funny context with great music and fabulous design values makes it even better.”
Jaeger wants to entertain audiences of every generation. Asheville Creative Arts: Innovative Theatre for Children of ALL Ages is the full name of the company, and it makes every effort to live up to that moniker. “First and foremost, we want people walking away saying, ‘That was hilarious and a lot of fun,'” says Jaeger. “We also want audiences and actors to understand that the experience of live theater in this environment is an experience that draws communities and families together.”
Three years in, ACA is using its professional approach to provide quality productions at affordable prices, often exposing some younger audience members to theater for the very first time.
“We always choose scripts that kids are going to love, but that appeal to adults too,” says co-founder and producing director Abby Felder. “We also look for scripts that advance the genre of children’s theater, that expand the scope of work being created for audiences of all ages.”
She continues, “It’s working! In the lobby following each of our shows [A Year With Frog and Toad, Charlotte’s Web, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs] audiences tell us how excited they are by the work, how they are seeing a favorite story in a new light or a new story for the first time, and how it resonates.”
The theater company also assembles quality talent for its productions. “We have a great cast that’s a mix of amazing local actors, like Strother Stingley, Kelli Cayman Cozlin and Maximilian Koger, as well as actors who are fixtures at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and other regional theaters — like Gina Jones, Jordan Ellis and Emma Gywnneth Gutt,” Felder says.
Actors are equally enthusiastic to be working with ACA. “I was really excited to audition for them and even more excited to be cast,” says Stingley, who has the challenge of playing four different roles in the show.
Plans to expand the offerings are in the works, as Jaeger explains. “We are very excited to be enhancing our programming to reflect our mission. Next season we’ll start an incubator series for new works for multigenerational audiences, which will include readings and workshops of new plays, featuring local playwrights.”
WHAT: Asheville Creative Arts presents Miss Nelson is Missing
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, ncstage.org
WHEN: Thursday, July 16-Sunday, July 26. See website for times. $23 adults/$12 students