by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Holy Spirit School students here got a taste of the performance life this summer as they participated in a production of “Annie.”
Fourteen kids from kindergartners through sixth grade spent two weeks of their break practicing for the big show, which they performed July 21 in front of friends and family.
“This is my favorite part of the summer,” said fifth-grader Sydney Conrad. “During the school year, I’m so excited for this.”
The play was directed and choreographed by Amy Gassel, Katie Seib and Margaret Tumberger — all sophomores at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park — and Angelina Williams, a sophomore at St. James Academy, Lenexa.
The young women have been friends since they attended grade school at Holy Spirit, and Tumberger and Seib are also cousins.
The idea to put on a summer play came from Tumberger’s mom Anna, as a way for the cousins to do something fun together.
“We were 3 or 4 when it started,” said Tumberger. “We used to do these in the backyard.”
Now that Tumberger is in high school, she and her friends carry on the tradition — but now as the play’s directors.
The high schoolers prepare months in advance by finding a script, choreographing the dances and casting each child that participates in a role.
“We know [the kids who participate], so we can fit them in the best part without auditions,” said Tumberger.
Because of its longstanding tradition, many Holy Spirit students know about the summer plays and ask to participate.
Daily practices in the two weeks leading up to the final performance are held at Tumberger’s; the performance is held at Holy Spirit in front of family and friends.
Although it gets hectic with the kids learning lines, dances and songs in a short time, the directors help everyone stay focused.
“They’re always patient with us,” said fourth-grader Addison Smith, who played Miss Hannigan. “And if we don’t get something, they always help us learn.”
The chance to perform is a unique experience for all the kids.
“I love singing and acting,” said Conrad, who played Annie during the first half of the play.
For Conrad, the ability to act alongside her peers is something she looks forward to every summer.
Another perk is working with the high schoolers, who inspire the kids to do their best and try new things.
“They’re just really nice,” said sixth-grader Kaylee Bohm, who played Duffy, one of the orphans.
“And it makes me want to be nice,” she added.
Tumberger enjoys helping the kids discover talents they might not realize they have, and watching them grow over the course of the production.
“I hope they can learn to be leaders and to help others,” she said.
The directors strive to make the practices a faith-filled and uplifting environment.
“We pray every day before practice to start off on a good note,” said Gassel.
“We always try to teach Christ-like virtues,” she continued, “like being respectful and patient and not being mean to other kids if they forget their line or their costume.”
“If they’re nervous about something or they feel like they can’t do it,” said Seib, “we can center them back in that Catholic way of thinking and say, ‘You can do this; you’re strong enough.”
Smith is grateful for the lessons she’s learned, like the importance of dedication.
“When you need to practice something, you should always [keep trying] because you can know that it will lead to good things,” she said.
Their hard work was on display in this summer’s final performance.
“My favorite day of the week is definitely play day because you get to see everything come together,” said Williams.
“It’s really amazing,” she added, “because you watch them through the week and you see them sometimes struggle with some of the things because they don’t always get everything the first day.
“So it’s really cool to see how much they’ve grown throughout the weeks.”
“I’m just so proud of them,” she said, “seeing how proud they are of themselves. And all of their family and friends come and see them.
“It’s just a great experience.”
For the young women, it’s worth sacrificing two weeks of their summer to give the kids a meaningful experience they will cherish.
“We really enjoy giving the kids something fun to do for two weeks in the summer,” said Gassel.
“It’s something a lot of them wouldn’t do if we didn’t have this,” she added.