When Cliffton Hansen’s teacher at Genoa-Kingston Middle School called him up to her desk one December day, he thought he was in trouble.
When he got to her desk, Hansen’s teacher, Cindy Bakanas, had pulled up on her computer the cast list of the Children Community Theatre’s upcoming production of “Honk!” Next to the role of Ugly the Duckling was Hansen’s name.
That’s how the 13-year-old seventh grader learned he had nabbed the lead.
“I started jumping up and down and yelling,” he said. “I remember everyone staring at me.”
After four months of preparations, CCT will present its production of “Honk!” this weekend. “Honk!” is a family-friendly musical adapted from the popular story “The Ugly Duckling.”
The play focuses on Ugly, who is bullied and rejected by his peers because of his appearance.
“It’s a timeless message of you are who you are and you should love yourself for it,” said director Jeff Hall.
Hall said the entire play and its cast does a great job of presenting this important message of acceptance and individuality behind a light-hearted tone, which he hopes audiences recognize.
“I really hope they take to heart the message of the show, and that they just have a good time,” he said.
George Schippits, vice president of the CCT Board of Directors and producer of the production, plays the villainous role of the Cat, who tries to eat Ugly throughout the play. Schippits also stressed the lesson behind the production.
“It’s got a great message,” he said. “We’re all an ugly duckling at some time.”
Tessa Poffenberger, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Genoa-Kingston Middle School, said she has enjoyed being a part of this particular production because she likes the the dynamics of the show.
“It’s cute and it’s got a bit of quirky humor in it, which I like,” she said.
Poffenberger plays Pinkfoot, a member of the goose squadron, which tries to help Ugly find his home during the play.
Both Poffenberger and Hansen said they are excited, anxious and a bit nervous for opening night Friday.
But Schippits said he feels the entire cast, consisting of about 15 adults and 35 children, is adequately prepared.
“We stress to the kids, when you hear the applause, it’ll all be worth it,” he said.
Many children in the production are just beginning their acting careers with “Honk!,” while some are CCT veterans. Schippits said working with these children always is a rewarding experience.
“That’s part of what I like about doing it, watching the kids grow and blossom as actors and actresses,” he said.
Schippits said sometimes its hard to distinguish the adults from the children once they get on stage. But that’s a good thing, he said.
“Most of us still act like children. That’s why we do theater,” he said. “You don’t have to grow up on stage.”
Hall, who has a strong background in theater, said his experience working with children was somewhat limited before joining CCT for this production. But working with these children has been humbling, he said.
“It’s been a huge joy,” he said. “I absolutely love it. They’re just brilliant.”
If you go
What: CCT presents 'Honk!'
Where: O'Connell Theatre, Stevens Building, Northern Illinois University
When: 7 p.m. March 8, 9, 15 and 16; 2 p.m. March 10 and 17
Tickets: $12, adults; $6, ages 12 and younger; available at www.cctonstage.com/tickets or at the door.