Jefferson Street youth act up to raise money

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

Members of the Jefferson Street United Methodist Church youth group have been acting up in church.

But the teenagers weren’t disciplined for their behavior since their antics are part of the group’s annual dinner theater fundraiser.

Each year the Jefferson Street youth group hosts a dinner theater, treating guests to a dinner and play, performed by an all youth cast.

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This year the group settled on “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Doug Rand.

Youth group coordinator and the play’s director, John Hudson, said that while the story is often associated with Christmas, he doesn’t consider it a Christmas story.

“Only the end of the story takes place on Christmas,” Hudson said. “The rest of it could have taken place at any point in the year.”

And even more than the just time of year, Hudson said every play they perform has a universal theme.

This year, Hudson said, the theme is the importance of every life created by God. And the actor with the most responsibility in portraying that theme is Natchez High School senior and Jefferson Street youth group president Guy Wimberly.

Wimberly will play George Bailey, a down and out man who is on the verge of suicide after learning of a family debt.

Wimberly is a veteran dinner theater actor, performing in his first play at age 9, but has never had a role as demanding as playing Bailey.

“John (Hudson) kind of scouts talent through the years and as you get older you get more lead roles,” Wimberly said. “I was surprised, shocked and a little overwhelmed with the role of George Bailey.”

And he had good reason to be overwhelmed since his role requires him to be on stage for over 80 percent of the plays 31 scenes.

“He has about 750 lines,” Hudson said of Wimberly’s demanding role. “A lead, in our plays, normally has 400 to 500 lines.”

Wimberly said he feels he has handled the demands of his role well since his final semester in high school only has him taking three classes.

But the large amount of stage time does have at least one downfall, Wimberly said.

“When rehearsal is over, I’m very thirsty,” he said.

And those rehearsals happen often. In order the prepare for the play, the cast of 50 rehearses for at least three hours each night in the weeks leading up to performances.

The 50-member cast, plus other parent volunteers handling props and costuming, is one of the largest the group has ever had. And that fact, brings with it a whole set of complications and confusions, Hudson said.

“The thing about this cast is that is has basically changed every night,” he said. “Some people assigned to a role didn’t show up for rehearsals and those roles had to be given to other people.”

The rearranging of cast members means some actors will be playing more parts than they originally thought. Such is the case for Matthew Golden. The Cathedral High School sophomore said his original role, Marty Hatch at a high school dance, has now grown to 10 roles.

“The first day I came to the youth group (at Jefferson Street) I was given that role,” Golden said. “And I was like OK.”

But after rehearsing as Marty, Golden began being given other roles to learn. But to his own amazement Golden isn’t having any trouble managing his multiple personalities.

“Most of them are small parts with just a few lines,” Golden said. “But I was surprised. I thought I might have some trouble.”

This year’s play is the first for Golden and the last for Wimberly. For Wimberly, the end of every play is a bittersweet moment, and this year the feeling is even greater.

“You don’t know what to do with your time after the play is over,” he said. “And you have grown so close to the people that you are onstage with.”

Hudson, who has directed every dinner theater performance done by the Jefferson Street youth, agreed

“I like it when I have something active to do the next day,” Hudson said. “Otherwise, I’m just lost.”