New Albany High School students in the school's summer theater production course are exploring their talents while preparing for Little Shop of Horrors, which will be performed July 25-27 at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts.
"I think they gain a much broader perspective (in the summer class)," said Elliott Lemberg, drama teacher and production director.
Lemberg said students who act in productions during the school year must focus on their roles and their school work.
In contrast, students taking the summer course are working on the production from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and get to explore other interests, such as costumes, lighting and sound.
The course began July 1 and ends with the performances of Little Shop of Horrors this weekend.
Lemberg said the students also learn from high school alumni, many of whom already are studying theater in college.
"Some alumni typically are able to be here in the summer," Lemberg said. "They teach some of the underclassmen they're working with. It's a neat experience for (the students) to connect with their older peers.
"Some of (the alumni) are working in the field or studying theater and they bring unique experiences back with them."
The lead character in this year's musical is an alumnus.
Twenty-year-old Cody Westbrook is entering his sophomore year at Ohio University.
Westbrook said he plays Seymour, the meek florist shop worker who discovers the strange plant that feeds on blood and human flesh.
Though he performed in all theater productions while in high school, the 2012 graduate said his first lead role is teaching him a lot, especially about stretching his vocal capacity.
"My voice seems really stressed when I'm not singing," Westbrook said.
He said he was studying integrated language arts but plans to change his major to theater once he returns to Ohio University.
"I was doing what I thought was right, not what was going to make me happy," Westbrook said.
He credits his father, Robert, with helping him find his new path.
He said Robert Westbrook has acted in a few movies and told him if he works at something he likes, he won't work a day in his life.
"That's my new motto," Westbrook said.
Westbrook will be joined in the production by one of his proteges, 2013 graduate Khris Wilcox, 18, who plans to study creative writing and film and screenwriting this fall at Ball State University.
Wilcox said Westbrook was his mentor when the two worked together on every high school theater production until Westbrook graduated.
Wilcox has an important part in the performance as well: He provides the voice of the blood-thirsty plant, Audrey II.
Wilcox said he, too, has been challenged by the part. He is off stage most of the time and said using only his voice to convey emotion is difficult.
"If I'm not convincing or if I'm slightly off -- too high, too low, too fast, too slow, too much emotion or not enough emotion -- it won't work," he said.
Audrey II was leased from Kent State University, Lemberg said.
The large puppet had to be disassembled for transport. During the production, it will be operated by three students, who have to make the puppet move as Wilcox speaks.
"All three of us are needed to eat people," joked Taylor Wigglesworth, a 17-year-old New Albany senior in her first theater production.
She said operating the puppet is a challenge with Wilcox off stage.
"He's behind stage singing and we have to anticipate when he's going to sing and open the mouth," Wigglesworth said. "It's very difficult."
Wigglesworth said she has performed in the high school's choir and orchestra and got involved with theater because of friends.
"I've always wanted to get involved with theater and I love this musical," she said.
Lemberg said many of the students in the summer course also get to take on leadership roles. Two of those he mentioned were senior Haley Wilson as co-director and 2013 graduate Hannah Bergere as stage manager
Performances of Little Shop of Horrors are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, and at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27.
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $7 for students, faculty and senior citizens.