Apple Tree offers opportunities for rising stars, young kids, those with disabilities

Apple Tree Productions rehearses for summer musical

Students rehearse for Sweeney Todd in the summer of 2018, one of Apple Tree Production's one-week intensive musicals.
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Students rehearse for Sweeney Todd in the summer of 2018, one of Apple Tree Production's one-week intensive musicals.

This summer will soon be filled with singing princesses, ugly ducklings and ogres, as local children’s theater Apple Tree Productions launches into its sixth season.

The troupe will produce three musicals for students ages 7 to 20 — “Cinderella,” “Honk” and “Shrek: The Musical” — as well as a program aimed at children ages 4 to 6, and a showcase performance for students with developmental disabilities.

“Summer is always our most intense time,” Apple Tree Productions co-founder and director Heidi Fredericks said.

Fredericks and her fellow co-founder and director Colleen Powers also put on plays and musicals during the school year; provide singing and acting classes; and produce musicals at area elementary and middle schools.

In a town with a multitude of community theater options, Apple Tree’s two unique offerings are their Appleseeds performance for younger participants, and their acting showcase for students with developmental disabilities.

The free showcase program brings together student participants and volunteers to play acting games and learn songs. Fredericks was inspired to create the program by her own son, who has autism.

“We have kids in that who we’ve had for many years,” Fredericks said. “If someone is having a hard day, they don’t have to come, and that part is really nice.”

For both Fredericks and Powers, the business has become a family affair. Fredericks’ older son participates in the showcase and her younger son is enrolled in this summer’s Appleseeds show. Powers, too, was able to watch her grandson sing and dance in Appleseeds last summer.

“He loved it and can’t wait to go back,” Powers said. “And they’re the future.”

As the two continue building toward the future, they’re often struck by how far they have come in six years.

After community theater Capital Playhouse and its children’s theater program, Kids at Play, shut down in 2013, Fredericks and Powers, both former playhouse employees, saw an opening for children’s theater.

“We knew all of these kids who were planning for a summer that wasn’t going to happen, so we said let’s make it happen for them. And we did immediately,” Powers said.

In summer 2013, Fredericks and Powers staged one play — “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — with about 35 kids. Now, the program is running more than 15 shows throughout the year, and Fredericks and Powers estimate they’ve worked with thousands of kids.

“We never have under 30 kids a show, and we usually have closer to 50,” Fredericks said. “When we’re at schools, I have as many as 70.”

Growth in enrollment is not the only improvement the two have seen.

“The biggest change has been in the production value. When we left the playhouse, we didn’t have anything,” Powers said. “We just started from scratch.”

But for both Powers and Fredericks, the student participants are more impressive than any fancy costumes or set pieces.

“The kids who are serious, they know the music when they walk in the door,” Powers said. “If they can, they have their hands on a script before we even hand them out, because they know what part they want to play.”

One of the program’s most dedicated participants is Daniel Fassnacht, 15, who has been involved since the beginning. He performed in the company’s first production and was in Apple Tree’s first non-musical performance, “The Outsiders,” last fall.

For Fassnacht, even though Apple Tree helped him realize that theater is what he wants to do with his life, the most rewarding experience has been the friendships he’s made — which he likened to a family.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had as good of friends as I’ve had at Apple Tree. I think I’ll know them for years,” he said.

“That’s such an important part,” Powers said. “They have friends from everywhere, not just from their own schools.”

The fairy-tale themed summer shows begin rehearsals in July at Olympia Little Theater and performances kick off July 12 with “Cinderella.”

“One of the most impactful things for me is to see how theater can affect somebody in real time,” Fredericks said. “Kids figure out for the very first time that this is what they’re supposed to do and they keep coming back to us.”