INDEPENDENCE -- Johnathan Hopper is shy. The 7-year-old was not sure he wanted to try out for "Sleeping Beauty."
Yet he sucks in his stomach, takes a deep breath and says the lines.
"What did you do to him?"
The king is asking a rogue fairy what she did to one of his royal colleagues. The king, like the actor playing him, is plenty nervous.
With each rehearsal, however, Hopper is getting more and more confident. Bob Page smiles. He has freed the child's inner ham.
"It's one of the reasons I do plays," Page says.
Page is the director of the Apple Box Children's Theater. The company of young actors is staging "Sleeping Beauty" at Talmadge Middle School.
There are 20 actors in all. Hopper is the youngest. "He's turned out to be a real go-getter," Page says. The oldest actor is 14.
They are a good group of kids, Page says. Disciplined thespians, they are not.
Even with opening night drawing near, they can't help squirming, fidgeting, giggling and generally goofing around during rehearsal.
"They're not supposed to be doing that, wearing themselves out," says Page, slightly exasperated as he watched his actors bob about like corks on the ocean before rehearsal last week.
Still, Page takes it in stride.
"That comes with maturity. They have so much energy. They just have to move about."
Still, the actors do their best to get in character. Amber Rafferty is wearing a sour expression. At least she tries to. The seventh-grader plays Trollina, the aforementioned rogue fairy.
She stands on stage with her hands crossed. "I am not in a good mood," she says.
It doesn't quite work. She no sooner gets the words out than a smile breaks out on her face.
Denise Reese, the show's choral director, tries to keep them focused on learning how to sing.
"Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha."
Everyone, all together now.
"Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha."
This is hard to do and still keep a straight face.
"Trust me. I could make fun of every face here," Reece tells them. "I made the funniest faces when I was learning this."
Page started the Apple Box Theater in the '80s when he was teaching theater arts at Western Oregon University.
He and his students toured extensively throughout the academic year, putting on plays for children. They visited up to 20 schools and performed two or three shows a day.
"We had so many requests, that we couldn't fill them all." Page says.
Eventually, the workload became too much for the students. "They had to work to earn money. I found myself doing most of the work, building sets, painting, etc."
Children had to be bused to the campus for shows.
Apple Box Theater has seen a rebirth over the past few years. Two years ago, children performed "The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria" at the Independence Women's Club to sold-out audiences.
That was followed last February with "Jack and the Beanstalk" at the Monmouth Celebration Center on Main Street.
The company has now found a permanent home at Talmadge Middle School. "It's absolutely glorious. I can't imagine anything more wonderful," Page says. The arrangement is a perfect fit for Talmadge as well. The school was lacking a drama program and Apple Box fit the bill perfectly.
"Sleeping Beauty" will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 1 and 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at Talmadge Middle School.
The cast includes Elise Abramson, Rachel Adams, Lily Bright, Brianna Duran, Christian Gordon, Heather Henderson, Johnathan Hopper, Alysse Parker, Maeleah Parker, Ashley Parks, Jeffree Presler, Amber Rafferty, Michelle Reece, Derek Rodriguez, Natasha Ruegsegger, Cassie Sarff, Rebekah Wagner, Marissa Williams and Tyra Johnson.