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All Hands on Deck! WHSAF Rehearses ‘The Little Mermaid’ Ahead of Opening Night

The cast of the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival's 'The Little Mermaid.' Photo credit: Sara Demos-Avery

The West Hartford Summer Arts Festival will present ‘The Little Mermaid’ this July.

By Grayson Rivers

On a seemingly ordinary Wednesday afternoon, a swarm of teens are running across Hall High’s all-black stage. They weave in between half-constructed set pieces and haphazardly thrown book bags. One girl glides out of the auditorium on a pair of Heelys before disappearing into a side room. 

These are the 40-odd students rehearsing for the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival’s The Little Mermaid. The performances will begin with a preview show on July 14 at 6 p.m. at Gastropark. After that, the show will open on July 25 and run until July 27 on the stage at Hall. 

For 47 years, WHSAF has brought young actors together from West Hartford’s public and private schools, as well as college graduates and students living in South Windsor, Simsbury, and Suffield. 

“We have people from all over because they want to be at the best program around,” said Sara Demos-Avery, WHSAF’s Executive Producer. Demos-Avery grew up participating in the program, and learned first hand the importance of community theater in Hall’s own auditorium.

“We are as much about being a community of friends as we are about the final product,” she explained. In an environment where nearly every actor is used to being their school’s lead, it’s these friendships that squash any Ariel-or-bust attitudes in the talented cast. 

Summer Neiditz, Hall graduate and the production’s Ursula, wholeheartedly agrees. The Muhlenberg sophomore hoped she’d get to play the iconic villain, but was okay with another role.

“The Summer Arts Festival makes every role feel special,” Neiditz said with a smile.  

But while Neiditz and the rest of the cast have just five weeks in total to prepare for opening night, WHSAF’s staff have been working since their first production meeting in January. In fact, The Little Mermaid was chosen for the festival in August, at a hibachi dinner celebrating last year’s Into The Woods production.  

Demos-Avery and her colleagues take pride in working year round, despite the difficulty. An all-star team, Hall’s Kate Morran and Stuart Younse, join over 20 other professionals to make these shows happen. And as a testament to WHSAF’s mission of life-long friendships, Demos-Avery and Morran actually grew close at their 1999 musical Anything Goes

These upcoming performances are all about the current cast though.

“Sell us out!” Demos-Avery says. “These kids deserve to have a sold out show every night!” 

More information about the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival, and the link to purchase tickets online, can be found on the website.

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