As a photojournalist at The Dalles Chronicle for many years, I’ve photographed a lot of theater, much of it in our local schools.

I’ve long been impressed by the professionalism I’ve found in the area, like the vast majority of productions undertaken by The Dalles High School’s drama department over the years under the direction and guidance of Lowry Browning. And in the past few years, Leslie Sullivan has revived theater at The Dalles Middle School with impressive results.

For a number of years my favorite theater company, however, was not in The Dalles but across the river in Dallesport Elementary School.

I confess that the first time I pushed my way through the double doors at the entrance and was directed to the luncheroom, where the theater group were working, I wasn’t expecting a lot.

Children’s theater is tough. You have to choose the right play, match up kids and characters the best way, and somehow inspire them to put in the work needed to make performing fun, which is what can bring a children’s play into the realm of fun theater, as apposed to an embarrassing performance that only a mother can love.

At the very least, you need really great costumes so the little munchkins are cute.

Walking into the Dallesport lunchroom, I was relieved—they had some of the best costuming I’d seen in the region; they were cute, and as a photojournalist that was really all I needed.

But when they hit the lights and performed, I was astonished. The kids were doing it right, and they were having fun. That’s pretty impressive. Dallesport Elementary School productions became my easy favorite in local theater.

Gail Farris was the driving force behind those theater performances in Dallesport, and I was thrilled to learn she was working with The Dalles Civic Auditorium’s first youth theater production, “Honk Jr., the musical,” an “Ugly Duckling” story. Auditions are Dec. 2 and 3, and are open to all area students in third through sixth grades.

They ask that you call them to register: Gail at 360-880-6642, Nancy at 509-767-1195, or Susan at 541-419-3389.

The production is fully funded by the Civic ($3,000), so unlike other children’s theater groups in the Gorge, cost is low at $30, and scholarships are available as well.

“Easy, simple auditions” are planned, Farris told the Chronicle Monday, and no prior experience is required.

It’s exciting to imagine what we might see in the future, as those performing in “Honk Jr.” at the Civic in March of next year arrive onstage to perform at The Dalles Middle School, and later at The Dalles High School.

More importantly, perhaps, the program is sure to build community and contribute to the growth and well being of a lot of kids in The Dalles.

So hats off to The Dalles Civic Auditorium board of directors for their investment in our community: President Steve Lawrence, Secretary Sherry Munro; Treasurer Kayla Magill; Director Dale Rollins; Director Patty Blagg and Director Paul VieMeister.

Emeritus directors are Del Cesar and Gerald Richmond.

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