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It's Getting Western

Young Actors Guild travels back in time

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BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

NWA Democrat-Gazette

FAQ

‘Annie Get Your Gun”

WHEN — 7 p.m. today; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — Northside High School Auditorium in Fort Smith

COST — $10-$15

INFO — weareyag.com

Fort Smith is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, and the Young Actors Guild decided to "do what comes natur'lly" -- celebrate along with the company's hometown.

To that end, director Missy Gipson has selected the perfect wild west tale for this weekend. Casual theatergoers might think they don't know Irving Berlin's 1946 Broadway hit "Annie Get Your Gun" -- until Gipson rattles off some of the songs in the play. Besides "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," it includes "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)," "The Girl That I Marry" and "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun." And even casual historians will recognize the characters: Sharpshooter Annie Oakley, Wild West Show star Frank Butler, Buffalo Bill, Chief Sitting Bull and more.

"We do four shows a year, and one of our biggest productions is our summer musical," says Gipson, who has been at the YAG helm since 2006. "It's not a summer camp; it's by audition. We had more than 100 kids audition, and we cast about 40 of them -- ages 7 to 19! We appoint mentors for the younger kids so they don't feel overwhelmed by the teenagers. And they work so well together!"

Izzy Jackson, who will be a senior this fall at Alma High School, portrays Annie Oakley.

"I've been involved with the Young Actors Guild for six years," she explains. "I did a play at my church when I was little, and I thought, 'OK, acting is my thing. I love this.'

"I've never seen a bad show at Young Actors Guild," she adds. "Missy really takes the desire for excellence to another level -- and I appreciate that."

Oakley was, of course, a real person, born Phoebe Ann Moses on Aug. 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. She learned to shoot as a teenager -- both to put food on the table for her widowed mother and to raise money for the family as a sharpshooter -- married Frank Butler in 1876 and starred in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for many years, gaining international stardom. She retired in 1913 and died in 1926.

Jackson sees the parallels between her personality and her character.

"She's spunky, charismatic and very strong willed," Jackson says. "She knows what she wants, and she's going to get it -- whether it's hitting a target or going after Frank Butler. There's a good bit of me in her -- and she's goofy, which I am too!"

For Gipson, the show is perhaps less important than the path to it and the results from it. YAG, she says, is unusual in that there is no charge for youngsters to participate.

"Taking dance classes and singing lessons and all the things kids want to do is cost prohibitive for a lot of families," she says. "We have a large contingent of kids who would not be able to have those experiences if YAG didn't exist. In the time we rehearse, they start to read sheet music, they dance, they learn about blocking and character development -- and that's alongside all the life skills like teamwork, self-confidence, problem solving.

"I don't know if you can get a better educational experience in a month than they get! It amazes me how fast they learn!"

NAN What's Up on 06/08/2018

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