Last season, Fort Wayne Youtheatre staged “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Now it's Huck Finn's turn.
Youtheatre Artistic Director Harvey Cocks wrote the adaptation of the famous Mark Twain novel to be kid-friendly and controversy-free, said Leslie Hormann, Youtheatre executive director. “We kind of sidestep that whole N-word thing.”
But she said the story does send an outstanding message as it depicts one of the first interracial relationships in American literature. The story focuses on Huck and Jim, the adult African-American who has escaped from slavery and is trying to reach freedom, as they paddle the Mississippi and encounter trouble and adventure.
Hormann has a role in the play as Judith, the old woman who helps out Huck Finn when he starts his adventures.
“She takes sympathy on him,” Hormann said. “It's a fun scene, short and sweet” — but a crucial piece of the play, as she helps Huck, an abused boy.
Hormann grew up in Youtheatre; she started taking classes in fifth grade. At that time, the shows were directed by Larry Wardlaw and Janice McNellis, she said.
“Even growing up, I always wanted to be in charge of it,” she said. After a career teaching in Fort Wayne Community Schools and as a disc jockey on WXKE, 103.9-FM, she took over the executive director role at Youtheatre about two years ago.
Cocks writes the plays and is the artistic director, she said. He directs two shows a year and teaches classes.
Hormann directs two shows and does all of the outreach and “administrative stuff,” she said.
This is the first time she's ever been directed by Cocks.
“I've always wanted to be directed by Harvey,” she said. “He has such insight into dialogue. He has a treasure trove of theater experience.”
She is acting alongside Andrew Bower, who plays Huck Finn. He is the son of Larry Bower of Bower-North Productions, which produces plays, mystery theaters and musical reviews in this area.
“He is very good with accents,” Hormann said of Andrew Bower. “He comes by it naturally. He is an incredible actor. He has all these lines, and he's the first one to memorize them all.”
Hormann said Youtheatre is primarily a theater organization that lets kids act, but sometimes it's necessary for a few adults to appear in the shows. In “Huck Finn,” there are four adults. “We pride ourselves in being for and by children, but to keep the integrity of the content of the story you sometimes use adults,” she said.
Yet the part of the job she loves is working with the kids, who learn self-discipline and how to follow directions when they commit to being in a play. They also learn “you're only as strong as your weakest link,” she said, meaning the kids learn, if they fail to live up to their responsibilities, they hurt the entire cast.
Part of working with youths is helping them get used to the size of the Arts United Center's stage, which is likely much bigger than what they've had experience with, she said.
She and Cocks also have to help the kids deal with nerves. Some get butterflies, but “we tell them that's a very helpful adrenalin rush,” she said.