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A performance the size of a thumb

M. Christine and her husband Jack Jeckot have been hard at work preparing for “The Little Easy,” a musical performance that incorporates aspects of “Tom Thumb” and “Thumbelina” through the Summer STEP (Special and Talented Enrichment Program.)

Shows will be held on Wednesday, July 25 at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, July 26 a 7:30 p.m. at Harrington Middle School’s auditorium in Mt. Laurel.

This is the 14th play produced by the Collingswood natives.

About 95 area students are involved in the tuition-based program and only have 23 days to practice before show time.

The story itself takes place in New Orleans and all of the characters are said to be the size of a thumb.

“That’s why our play is called ‘The Little Easy,’” said Christine Jeckot.

Jeckot took the characters from the fairy tales and created her own story line.

Various musical genres will be featured throughout the play.

“’Tom Thumb’ comes from England,” she explained. “That’s where punk music originated in the ‘80s.”

All of the boys will be dressed in punk garb.

Since the play will be based in New Orleans, there will still be Cajun, blues, jazz and gospel music.

There will be six original tracks recorded by Jack.

“We wanted the kids to be excited so we have hip hop and punk,” said Jeckot. “My husband and I are working down to the wire as far as getting the songs ready.”

Characters will include toad, mouse, firefly and crocodile.

Witch Hazel, a voodoo queen, will have two voodoo doll sidekicks.

People imagine dolls being stabbed with pins at the mention of voodoo, she said, but “that wasn’t the original purpose of voodoo.”

Voodoo used to be meant for good things, like finding love, she said.

The dolls in the play will talk about magic and potions, but “it doesn’t get any heavier than that,” she said.

With so many children signed up who know how to play instruments, the Jeckots created a Dixieland band on stage to showcase their talents, a feat that has never been done in STEP on such a grand scale.

The band will play “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the audience is welcome to sing along to the tune.

Compared to Spring STEP, there is a wider range of young talents. For the summer program, students coming out of third-grade through those leaving eighth-grade are allowed to join the cast.

This year, there are also three second-graders involved due to their older siblings’ participation.

As of Thursday, July 5, just 20 days before the curtains were to rise, Jeckot had yet to finish writing the script, which she called “not unusual.”

It is important to write a script that highlights the talents of the performing youngsters, she explained, “to showcase them in their best light.”

Some kids can dance, some can sing, some can act.

Every now and again, a performer can do all three.

“It’s nice to have that chance to do it this way,” she said.

Plus, Jeckot loves the fire of deadlines.

“Sometimes they’re more inspiring than not having a deadline,” she said. “There was a lot of homework involved before I got to this point.”

After eight months of research, she is excited to unleash her creative side.

“It’s fun!” she emphasized.

A performer who plays an Asian longhorn beetle will have a personality, she explained as an example.

“You’re going to be a nerd Asian longhorn beetle,” she said, and then she will add to the voice of the character accordingly. “That allows them to have a lot more fun than just using their regular speaking voice. It gives them more depth.”

Besides she and her husband, there are 9 helpers on staff, more than 50 parent volunteers involved and about a dozen volunteers of high school age.

“We rely heavily on volunteers,” she said.

This play will involve all new costumes for the cast.

The set from “Hayz Dayz of Hollywood,” which was this year’s Spring STEP, was completely torn apart aside from the very back and is being totally rebuilt.

“We really took on a lot,” said Jeckot.

When possible, the Jeckots repurpose items to keep costs low.

“Art is everywhere,” she said, from cars to chairs. “If you really broke it down, you would see that.”

To work together as a team on a brand new endeavor is “very rewarding” for the kids, she explained.

They are able to develop new skills and friendships.

“Music, drama, performing arts is very important to children’s development,” she said, explaining that it allows them to discover more about themselves and their likes and dislikes.

Even if they do not become Broadway performers, they do bring their life skills into the classroom to be able to stand in front of a class and present a project.

“It opens up a lot of eyes,” she said.

Admission is $5 and can be purchased now at Harrington Middle School between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Tickets are available at the door and there will be concessions on site for purchase.

For more information, visit http://hms.mtlaurelschools.org/subsites/John-Jeckot/documents/STEP/Summer12/index.html, email jjeckot@mountlaurel.k12.nj.us or call (856)- 234-1610 ext. 2047.