In most after-school theater programs, kids work for weeks and weeks and, at the end, they have a few performances where family and friends can see them shine.
After “The True Colors of Weedle,” the first production of Little Fig Stage, based at The Harvey School in Katonah, 13 local kids will have that, and something else. They’ll have an Off-Broadway credit.
Little Fig – the brainchild of Pomona husband and wife Michael Ficocelli and Marci Elyn Shein – performs “Weedle” Saturday and Sunday at Off-Broadway’s Players Theatre on MacDougal Street.
The birth of Little Fig is among the ripples left by the loss of the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts in October 2005. The Pulse Performing Arts Studio was one of those ripples, too, as Jennifer Dell, Paul Andrew Perez and a staff of former NWCA instructors put together a program for an arts-hungry community.
Last winter, Shein directed Westchester’s first production of “High School Musical” – at The Pulse. Ficocelli was the musical director. Having decided last summer to venture off to do their own thing, they sought to set themselves apart.
“We were trying to go someplace different than what we had been doing, which is your standard musical – ‘How to Eat Like a Child’ and ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and every standard, ‘Once on This Island,’ ” Shein says.
“Every high school’s going to do the standard musical, the kids are going to get that,” she adds. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to do something new and get our kids Off-Broadway?’”
Shein called Michael Sgouros, the owner of Off-Broadway’s 180-seat Players Theatre, where she had performed in a musical called “Triangle” last spring. She pitched the idea of putting on original musicals presented by a troupe of actors age 13 to 18. Sgouros liked the idea and worked to make it happen.
“He’s happy now,” says Ficocelli, “because tickets are selling.”
Leaving one company and starting your own can be a thorny enterprise.
Shein and Ficocelli say they were careful not to actively solicit members of The Pulse. They relied purely on word of mouth.
Still, the cast of 13 comes from NWCA and from The Pulse.
“We’ve worked with a lot of these kids since they were 7 years old,” Shein says.
“I wouldn’t call kids and tell them we’ve moved,” she adds. “We were discreet about it. A few of the parents did it, through e-mail.”
Shein had to turn away a few people who called after “Weedle” was cast.
The tuition for the 10-week course – with two rehearsals a week – is $750 per student.
Mikhyle Stein, 13, an eighth-grader at St. Patrick’s School in Bedford, plays the title character, Weedle, a boy who lacks color but is born into a colorful world. Stein played Ryan in The Pulse’s “High School Musical.”
Since “The True Colors of Weedle” is an original musical, there has been a lot of give-and-take among playwright June Rachelson-Ospa, Ficocelli, Shein and the cast.
At first, Rachelson-Ospa wrote a draft in which Weedle’s journey begins when he bumps his head, a la “The Wizard of Oz.”
When the cast read that, they had something to say, Ficocelli recalls.
“We had a round-table with the kids and they, at their young ages, picked up that that felt clichÃƒÂ©,” he says.
“This is the wonderful thing about Little Fig,” Shein says. “We’ve empowered them, to a degree, to give feedback and shape the piece.”
The playwright has been writing and refining. Now Weedle finds the colors within him after crying a river a tears that restores color to the world.
The show runs two acts, a little more than an hour. And it will be presented Off-Broadway, a feat that is not lost on the cast.
“That is really, really cool and really big, an amazing thing,” Stein says. “I’ve never done anything close to this.”
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m nervous, but I’m excited,” he adds. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be so much fun.”
Maddie O’Brien, 13, lives in Greenwich, an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart School. She plays Katie, Weedle’s friend and moral compass. O’Brien started at NWCA, and moved to The Pulse.
“I followed Marci and Michael wherever they went,” she says.
Coming to Little Fig was not a tough decision, she says.
“I thought doing it Off-Broadway was cool, and I know most of the people in the cast,” she says. “Some of these kids I’ve done eight shows with.”
Theatrical connections, once made, can last a lifetime.
Ken Marsolais, who used to run NWCA, is a big supporter of Shein and Ficocelli. It was Marsolais who drove Shein around Westchester looking for a home for Little Fig. One of the places they visited was The Harvey School, where Marsolais introduced Shein to Ron Romanowicz, Harvey’s director of enrollment.
“Ron was so accommodating,” recalls Ficocelli. “The first time we met him was like we’d known him our whole lives. He said, ‘Sure we can do this.’”
Romanowicz saw only upside to the enterprise.
“We’ve been working to develop programs that are supplemental to what we do during the day and can be opened up to the community and our own students,” he says. “This just seemed like a natural.”
Romanowicz found them rehearsal space in the former Harvey theater, which is now a study hall at the private school off Jay Street in Katonah.
“Now everyone thinks of the study hall as the Little Fig Stage Company,” he says.
The company got off the ground in September, too late for Harvey students to participate, but Shein, Ficocelli and Romanowicz all hope that will change with the next production, a Ficocelli musical called “Wild Imaginings.”
But first is “Weedle.”
On Saturday morning, this brand-new group will put what it learned in Katonah to full use.
They’ll arrive at the Players Theatre at 10 a.m. and rehearse before their first show at 3 p.m. That’s not a lot of time, but Shein is not too concerned.
“We’re in good shape,” she says with a broad smile.
Shein has invited agents, producers and casting directors. That kind of exposure is priceless and has prompted some in the cast to do something they’ve never done before.
“The kids,” Shein says with a giggle, “are making press packets.”