How ‘Willy Wonka’ taps into what kids really need

This summer, my 13-year-old son has been doing something rather unusual. Every morning, he leaves my office at half past nine and walks more than a mile to work.

He’s likely willing to walk because he’s having more fun than at most jobs. Since early July his task has been to practice at the Central Kitsap Performing Arts Center for about six hours each weekday with more than 100 other kids, playing, singing and storytelling their way through the stage production of “Willy Wonka,” adapted from the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder. My son loves singing with a German accent and pretending to eat non-stop while playing Augustus Gloop. Always the entertainer, he feels more at home on the stage than just about anywhere else.

But there is another reason he loves being in the production: working with creative powerhouse and inspirational director, Gretchen Dru.

Already a venerable institution to theater in this community, Dru has absolutely outdone herself this summer. She and partner-in-crime Don Fox, the director of performing arts and operations at CKHS — as well as an award-winning designer and stage manager with more than 200 productions under his belt — have set the bar very high. In addition to putting together a show unlike anything Kitsap County has ever seen, they refused to turn away any child who auditioned to be a part of it and ensured participation in the show would be free to all. Somehow, they delivered on both promises.

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