Former Triopia actress takes on director of beloved Bradbury musical
By Maryjane Bradbury
Katie McDannald was in the seventh grade when the “Children of the Rainbow” musical, written and directed by Ken Bradbury (“KB”), was first performed at Triopia High School in 1999.
“I begged my mother to let me stay after school so I could get in line for the show and get the best seat. This show sparked my interest in theater and got me to auditions freshman year,” said McDannald.
McDannald is now directing the show she fell in love with 24 years ago.
“As a Triopia alumna, the decision to apply for musical director for this show was a no-brainer. Some of my best memories of high school involve being on stage and enjoying rehearsals backstage with my friends.”
For more than 30 years, the Triopia gymnasium was filled to capacity with more than 700 in attendance to see the annual spring musicals. Those unfamiliar with that era have asked, “How did this tiny school in the middle of corn fields manage to draw hundreds of people to musical theater shows?”
The answer is simple: Ken Bradbury.
McDannald said, “Mr. Bradbury was my teacher, director, mentor and friend for many years. I spent my high school career with him at Triopia and my summers with him at Green Pastures Performing Arts Camp. Without Mr. Bradbury’s influence, I would not be the person I am today. Like so many others, he helped strengthen my self-confidence, cultivate my talents, and solidify my faith in Christ.”
Bradbury began teaching English at Triopia in 1971, and then-superintendent Jim Brim asked him to direct a school play.
Bradbury had no experience with theater, so for the first few years, he directed well-known musicals such as “Bye, Bye, Birdie.” However, the popularity of the theater program grew at Triopia, and Bradbury soon realized most traditional musicals did not provide enough roles for the number of students who wanted to perform.
Bradbury then began writing original shows, which allowed all students who wanted to participate to be involved. This included actors on-stage and also those who helped build sets, assist with makeup and costumes, work backstage, or run the lights and sound equipment.
Unfortunately, Triopia students have had few opportunities to participate in theater since Bradbury retired in 2006, as directors are not easy to find.
It’s been three years since Jaxon Dion, a sophomore and two-letter athlete (football and basketball) at Triopia, has acted, but he is certainly no stranger to the stage. He has previously performed in 15 productions — ranging from plays, to readers theater, to musicals — in shows such as “Couplings,” “Peter and Wendy,” “I Wanna Be …” and “Branson Bound.”
Dion is excited to return to the stage in “Children of the Rainbow.” Dion said, “Theater is something where you can just be yourself and show how to express things. I like the friendships and being able to laugh.”
Dion continued, “It’s fun to be in a play again. I’ve also learned how funny my cousin, Ticen [Crawford], can be. This is his first play and he’s doing a great job!”
Ticen Crawford, also a sophomore at Triopia, has kept very busy in high school with football, FFA and weightlifting. Theater is a new experience for him. Crawford said, “I chose to be in ‘Children of the Rainbow’ because of the motives behind the show. The story is based around the story of the creation and it’s such an important and fun story to learn, and telling the story in the form of a musical is a great way to catch people’s eye while also shining a light on God’s glory.”
Crawford said that during this experience, “I’ve learned how to be more confident, and how to tell a story – not only with words, but with actions.”
Dion’s mother, Abby (Crawford) Dion, and Crawford’s father, Luke Crawford, are brother and sister and were involved in theater under the direction of Bradbury when they were students at Triopia.
Also, Luke Crawford continued to perform in many Bradbury productions after high school in a number of venues in Jacksonville, Springfield and the surrounding area. Additionally, their grandfather, Mike Crawford, was a member of Bradbury’s Christian band, Shiloh, which performed in the area for several years.
This show is a stroll down memory lane for the rehearsal accompanist, Christine Smith.
Smith was the music and choir teacher at Triopia from 1994-2002 and Bradbury asked her to be the vocal coach and play the keyboard in the band for the original show. Smith said, “When I walk into the Triopia Elementary gym, it is like coming home. I spent many hours in this gym, and this is one more memory to add.”
Smith’s script contains her notes from the original production: “I know the show and know the music. Ken’s [Bradbury] shows have a certain charm and magic to them in many ways. It has really done my heart a lot of good to revisit these songs and this message.”
Witnessing the energy and enthusiasm of the students rehearsing this show is exhilarating. The support and encouragement they give each other is inspiring, and the pride in the faces of the parents in the audience gives hope the theater program will continue.
“The plays at Triopia used to be a huge thing. I want to bring back the plays and get more people involved. I also want to carry on Ken’s [Bradbury] work that he worked so hard on,” Dion said.
Sami Cromer is an eighth grader at Triopia and this is her second show at Triopia, having performed in “Alice in Wonderland” last year. Cromer said, “I love everything about theater — the rush of being on stage, creating character personalities and feeling a part of a team — though my very favorite part is making friends with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Cromer suggests, “If you have the opportunity to do something like theater, but you’re on the fence … go for it! You’ll never know if you enjoy something if you don’t try.”
McDannald acknowledged her first time as a director has been a learning experience, but most importantly, “There are 25 incredibly talented students from Triopia and Virginia in this show, ranging from fifth grade to seniors, and I am just so proud of each and every one. They show up, learn their lines and know that they have to work hard … and that’s just what they’re doing. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids. With their help, I know we can bring theater back to the Triopia area.”
“Children of the Rainbow” will be performed both Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m., and then on Sunday, April 23 at 2 p.m. The production will take place in the grade school gym at Triopia Jr. Sr. High School, located at 2204 Concord Arenzville Rd. in Concord. Please call 217-457-2281, ext.1021 to reserve tickets.