Each of Jefferson City High School's upcoming performances of the production of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" will be a unique experience for cast and audience members.
Director Zachary McKinney described performative freedom as a selling point of the show; in addition to "good, wholesome fun," every show will be different.
"We're going to have different elements at each time. We're going to have some moments that are improvised. We're going to have some moments that I let the kids just kind of have some freedom to do as they wish," McKinney said.
The play is based on the Robert Fulghum collection of essays of the same title, with the tagline "Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things."
The core of the collection of essays is "a common, though no less relevant, piece of wisdom: that the most basic aspects of life bear its most important opportunities," according to a description on Amazon.
"We've taken the lessons from the play and incorporated them into a style that is a classroom," McKinney said of JCHS's interpretation.
The original version of the play is a musical, but he didn't want to do another musical after performing one in the fall.
He said there's a note from the author in the play that says "you can pick and choose any of these scenes that you want to and just adapt it to your own liking, so I picked some of my favorite ones that I thought had a strong message and that I knew the kids could really sell and what I thought would work best as a classroom atmosphere."
In other words, the show is kind of a free-form drama. Part of the cast's auditions was improv "because I really wanted them to just have fun with this show," McKinney said. "I didn't want this show to be so rigid. I just wanted it to be exploratory. I like to do an experimental piece every now and then, and so this is our experimental piece of this year."
The beginning of the play is from children's perspectives. As the show progresses, the classroom students grow older and reflect on their childhoods.
There are 20 students in the cast — 19 of whom are playing students, plus one teacher — and about another 10 working backstage.
McKinney said a group of 30 is smaller than what he's used to working with — up to 70-80 students with musicals.
"I really wanted (this show) to be a lot smaller, more intimate, because I wanted to teach the kids that sometimes you don't get cast in everything — and so the kids that didn't get cast in this one ended up getting cast in the Christmas show, and the kids that were in the Christmas show ended up doing crew for this show."
He called that a "double-dip" which lets students learn a different theater trade.
"I wanted them to have a chance to do multiple things because in college, that's what they have to do," he said.
McKinney found the show through stage managing for the Missouri State High School Activities Association's state theater competition in 2014. A group from Kansas City performed it as a small, one-act play.
"I said, 'Wow, I love that message. I love their energy. I'd love to do this show one of these days.' When I finally bought the script, I was like, 'OK, this is the show we need to do this year.'"
He encouraged audience members to come to a performance with an open mind, willing to take to heart the lessons offered by each scene.
"I just want the audience to feel like I felt after that, which is a lot of positivity and (the thought that) I don't have to be a grumpy old man all the time. I can go out and be kind to others and share, hold hands when I cross the street — those little things that we forget over time because life hits us hard sometimes and we forget to be kind. We forget to show love. I just thought that was a nice message in each scene."
Tickets for "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" will be on sale 5-7 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday at the Miller Performing Arts Center. Tickets will also be available at the Miller Center starting one hour before each show time: 6 p.m. Feb. 9 and 6 p.m. Feb. 10.