(L to R) Lily House plays Ellen-A-Dale, Nate Friedberg plays the sheriff of Nottingham and Sam McIntyre plays Robin Hood in the Wagon Wheel Jr. production of “Rockin’ Robin Hood” this weekend. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
(L to R) Lily House plays Ellen-A-Dale, Nate Friedberg plays the sheriff of Nottingham and Sam McIntyre plays Robin Hood in the Wagon Wheel Jr. production of “Rockin’ Robin Hood” this weekend. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
One of the most undersold aspects of this weekend’s festivities at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts is the open house and how much fun that is, according to Wagon Wheel Education Director and Wagon Wheel Jr. Director Kira Lace Hawkins.

“The kids all come in costume and there is a costume contest,” she said during an interview at the Wagon Wheel Monday afternoon. “As you can see, there’s so many carnival-ish games for them to play where they will get prizes, little trinkets and there’s candy to be earned and a competition of guess the amount of candy in a jar. Just little fun things.”

That all adds to the Halloween aspect of the Wagon Wheel Jr. show this weekend, which is “Rockin’ Robin Hood,” she said.

Show times for “Rockin’ Robin Hood” are 7 p.m. Friday, with the Not-So-Scary Open House at 6 p.m.; and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with the Not-So-Scary Open House at 12:30 p.m. The open house is free with the purchase of a $20 show ticket and includes costume contest, games, trick-or-treating and more.

The show itself is really fun and a little more mature but it’s still fun for kids. “I can’t wait to bring my 3- and 6-year old to the show. And I love that, too, because I haven’t yet brought my 3-year-old to my professional shows, but that’s why I love the junior shows so much because it can be such an introduction to musical theater, so the younger audiences, who we want in the audience, but ‘Robin Hood’ is so fun because it also caters to an older audience that wants to think and wants to be challenged,” Hawkins said.

The excitement of the 30 kids performing on the stage for “Rockin’ Robin Hood” is “so contagious, their performance level is so high, they care so much and they just want to share their work with the community,” Hawkins said.

The performers range from young people who are on the Wagon Wheel stage for the first time to several older students who have performed on the stage over a dozen times.

“We have a lot of kids here who have auditioned for many of our shows and not yet gotten it, but this is their first show that they’ve made it into, so it speaks to the resiliency that I think - sometimes auditions can be so hard and it’s the hardest thing of what we do. When we have 80 kids show up and we only can only cast, it tears our hearts apart, but there’s important lessons to be learned from hearing ‘no’ and taking that in and learning and still coming back because you love it so much and working hard to achieve that goal. And we like to honor that when we can see growth, so it’s also one of the best things we do, I think, and provide the kids with opportunity,” she said.

Junior Experience

Three of the cast members of Wagon Wheel Jr.’s production of “Rockin’ Robin Hood” have appeared in over three dozen shows at the theater combined, including the junior and professional productions.

Lily House, 16, a junior at Warsaw Community High School, plays the narrator, Ellen-A-Dale, in “Rockin’ Robin Hood.” She has been doing theater at the Wagon Wheel since she was 9. “Rockin’ Robin Hood” is her 15th show at the theater, and has done a little bit of theater elsewhere. Her one professional experience so far at the Wagon Wheel was in “Big, the Musical.”

Nate Friedberg, 13, a Lakeview Middle School eighth-grader, plays the sheriff of Nottingham. He has been in theater since he was 8 or 9, he said, and “Rockin’ Robin Hood” also is his 15th show. Though he hasn’t done any theater beyond the Wagon Wheel, he’s done six professional shows, with the last one being “Big.”

Sam McIntyre, 15, a freshman at Triton Jr.-Sr. High School, plays the title role of Robin Hood. Since he was 11, he’s taken part in about 14-15 shows at the Wagon Wheel, including the professional show of “Cinderella.”

“Theater-in-the-round is a really unique experience and I think it’s really cool to go through the process of that and really learn how to act differently than you would on a normal stage. I think there’s a lot of cool opportunity there,” House said. “And also it’s really cool because of the age range where you can have an 18-year-old working with an 8- or 9-year-old and it’s really cool how the older kids can be like mentors to the younger kids, and eventually those younger kids are the ones who are 17 and 18, and it’s just really cool to just see that cycle continue.”

House said her mentors at the Wagon Wheel growing up inspired her to want to be like them. “Now it’s really cool to be one of the older kids and feel like they did,” she said.

Friedberg said not only is theater-in-the-round a unique experience, but it also helps one grow not only as an actor but also in their personal lives.

“It helps you to talk to people more and get out there,” he said.

McIntyre said Wagon Wheel supporters  are what makes the Wagon Wheel “come to life.” He said the audience, the cast and crew “all just love to be at the Wagon Wheel.”

‘Rockin’ Robin Hood’

Providing a synopsis of “Rockin’ Robin Hood,” House said, “It’s, of course, the classic tale of Robin Hood trying to sort of avenge those who have been taken advantage of. But, in this story, he has a big group of friends and a sister and they’re all kind of a big group and they go on the journey as a team.”

Friedberg said the sheriff is a very brutal person and tries to gain power that he lacks. “He does that through acting sort of big when he is one of the smallest people there,” he said.

McIntyre said Robin Hood is an all-around good guy. “He starts out trying to sell arrows and throughout the show, he realizes what he feels he needs to do in the town and throughout the show he becomes more and more mature and able to give back money to the poor,” he said.

Friedberg said he and McIntyre don’t really interact in the show that much, even though they are adversaries.

“I think we have one scene together. We definitely kind of grow off of each other,” Friedberg said.

As the narrator, House said her character is one of the villagers as well, but “she sort of has these moments where everything on stage freezes and she’s just the one telling the story. So she is the one moving the plot along and giving the audience some insight, but she’s also just as much a part of it as anyone else reacting to everything going on in the actual story.”

Wagon Wheel Jr. was scheduled to put on “Rockin’ Robin Hood” in the spring but due to performers and crew members coming down with COVID, the musical was moved to the fall. While some roles in “Rockin’ Robin Hood” had to be recast, House, Friedberg and McIntyre were not.

“There were 12 people who were not able to join us for the new dates, so we were then able to reaudition and cast 12 more kids to join us,” Hawkins said.

While the cast members will be backstage during the Not-So-Scary Haunted House, House said their parents and siblings will be out in the lobby working the games and activities.

Asked why families should come out to the Wagon Wheel this weekend, McIntyre said, “It’s got some good music. Rock.”

His favorite song is one that he’s not in. It’s called “Rockin’ Robin Hood.”

“Also, another thing about this show that I think is unique from some of the others shows is that it’s got a really, really strong moral to it,” House said. “The other junior shows have always had some lesson to be learned, but I think that this one specifically really follows that throughout the whole show. And I just thought it was really cool to kind of see that.”

McIntyre said the moral in the show is, “Fight for what is right.”

“Exactly. As it’s said multiple times in the show,” House agreed.

McIntyre said the script is a lot different from the other Wagon Wheel Jr. shows that they’ve done. “It’s a lot more detailed,” he said.

“It’s a dense script,” Hawkins said, “which is part of the reason we chose it. A lot of the times our Wagon Wheel Jr. is targeted so much to young audiences that sometimes our actors feel under-challenged, which isn’t to say they’re not worth producing as well, but this one ... our cast is a bit more mature and it speaks to an older mindset. More complex.”

“It’s definitely more challenging than past Jr. shows,” McIntyre said.

Another theme in the show, House said, is to be true to yourself.

“There’s a lot of good lessons to be learned in the show,” McIntyre said, who also noted there’s a lot of character development in it. “Robin Hood starts out as a kind of an arrogant person who all he is trying to do is make money, and then he comes to realize that the sheriff is trying to take money from orphans and villagers and so he comes to realize that he needs to fight for what is right and take the money back and give the money back to the poor. Give back what was originally theirs.”

He said he was excited to perform the show in front of an audience.

No matter how many plays you do, it’s always a little nerve-wracking,” Friedberg said.