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Holladay Journal

Theater helps Olympus High School students grow through roles

Apr 09, 2024 10:56AM ● By Sarah Brown

Ava Hansen and Eli Lewis capture the generational essence of Ariel and King Triton. (Photo courtesy of Luke Hansen, Rocket Salt Studios)

From March 6-12, audiences filled the Olympus High School auditorium eager to experience their favorite characters, songs, and story, “The Little Mermaid” musical, presented by the performing arts program. 

It’s a tale of the ages, for all ages. A story of good and evil, risk and reward, love and community that addresses us all but is minted for the young.

Little girls in Ariel costumes skipped down the theater corridors, excited to catch a glimpse of their favorite princess. Parents trailed behind in anticipation of reliving the nostalgia of the original Disney production they grew up with—though this time, they were more likely to identify with the parental perspective, hopes and fears of King Triton.

In the gap are teenage adolescents trying on new roles for size, exercising their voices and channeling their emotions in service to their ambitions, as they feel their way through a set with predetermined boundaries—on stage, as in life.

It is these voices, a talented group of student-actors, that delivered the heart of the story. 

Robin Edwards, who has been at the helm of this program for 34 years, shared her aspirations for her students and described how theater helps to develop their self-awareness.

“My biggest goal for my students is that they learn more about themselves,” she said. “The more they understand who they are (not what they are going to be) the better choices they can make. This could come through identifying with the character they are playing, the story they are telling or the message of the play/musical. It can also come with how they schedule their time, learn their lines, treat other cast and crew members throughout the process of the production.”

Self-aware they are.

Ariel, played by Ava Hendrickson and Ava Hansen in the two casts, embodies the teenage spirit and sentiment that is easily relatable in adolescence. 

“I connect a lot with Ariel. I’m very opinionated like her. When I get set on something, I’m going to do it,” Hansen said.

But how a teenager might connect with King Triton, Ariel’s protective father, is less obvious. When given the opportunity to ask the students who played this role in each of the two casts, Eli Lewis and Peter Carlson, their responses were insightful. 

Lewis draws on his personal confidence for the role and conveyed how “commanding the room and being in charge” parlays into a strong paternal stance. He also noted how easily the natural feelings of anger can be called upon.

Carlson connects to the role with a different assurance. He sees King Triton’s character as “an anchor to the show, a point to ground the play to, to bring it back to reality.”

There is wisdom in these words. The art of theater is teaching them the rhythms of life. 

Edwards said that with the development of self-awareness, personal paths can become clear, and joy follows.

In the process, she witnesses responsibility, respect, empathy, maturity and gratitude being cultivated. “That is when the true growth happens,” she said.

Siblings and staff members’ children playing younger roles accompanied them on stage. An experienced director team led them, while a robust technical team arranged the scenes.

Parents, grandparents, and teachers—the King Tritons—provided the love, support and protective space, the “anchor,” for teenage Ariels, once toddlers dressed in costumes, now finding themselves. λ