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DECATUR — Preparing future cast members for a Decatur Park District production of the “Guys and Dolls” musical began Saturday with an audition workshop at the Poage Arts and Recreation Center.

About 75 children in grades one through 12 took part in one of two age-specific workshops intended to prepare them for the show and ease some of the nerves they might be feeling going into the production.

Delaney Kwasny, 13, a Johns Hill Magnet School student, feels more confident after performing in previous shows. She hopes others will come with an open mind about what they can accomplish.

“I was terrified at first,” Delaney said. “Now I know you can do anything you put your mind to. It makes you blossom. It's an amazing program. You can't get an opportunity like it any other place.”

Auditions for the show that is part of the park district's PERFORM program will be held in 30-minute time slots for groups of 10 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10. Callbacks will be 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11.

Sign-ups begin Monday and will be taken through Dec. 8 by calling (217) 422-5911. The cost for those who participate in the play is $150 for nonresidents and $130 for residents, with discounts and financial assistance available, said Marie Jagger-Taylor, the park district's cultural arts manager who is the director/choreographer for the show.

Students come from 24 area schools in addition to homeschoolers to participate in the program, Jagger-Taylor said.

“It's a great way to bring the greater Decatur area together,” said Jagger-Taylor, who is hoping to select as many cast members for various parts as possible. She said not everybody needs to sing and dance, as other roles will be available.

“We want them to be successful and come be part of the show,” Jagger-Taylor said.

Delaney is among the students excited about the possibility of performing in “Guys and Dolls,” which is set in New York during the 1940s. The musical was selected in part because it is one of music director Christine Smith's favorite shows, which was the first one she remembers seeing growing up.

Smith thinks it's a show the children will enjoy as they begin preparing.

“It's a cool story,” Smith said. “They'll pick it up so fast. This is such a great group of kids.”

Smith hopes the workshop helped make some of the children feel less nervous about needing to audition, which she said can be a scary word.

“This sets them at ease,” Smith said. “We want them to have a good time.”

For some, especially the younger children, just having the confidence to stand up in front of an audience is an important life skill, Jagger-Taylor said. Part of the workshop included having the children practice introductions by saying their names, ages and schools clearly and loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Jolie Stuart, a fifth-grader at Maroa-Forsyth Grade School, and Reese Peters, a fourth-grader at Cerro Gordo, were among those practicing during the first workshop of the morning. They each said that anyone thinking about trying out should give it their best.

“I love the program,” Jolie said. “No matter how it goes, don't be scared.”

Grace Brewster, 16, of Decatur is looking forward to trying out for the program again with a particular interest in the music for the show.

“It's a ton of fun for everybody,” Grace said.

John Haskins, 16, of Decatur said the program is a great way to meet people as he's looking forward to the experience.

“I feed off the energy,” John said. “Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

The program is supported in part through a donation from Archer Daniels Midland Co., Jagger-Taylor said. Weekend rehearsals begin Jan. 7 at the Poage Center with performances scheduled for March 17-19 at the Decatur Civic Center.

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