It’s a tale as old as time that continues to resonate in the hearts of audiences young and old.
Bringing a beloved fairy tale out of fans’ memory and into the world is no small task. But that is precisely what the students at The Donoho School are doing with their upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which opens Friday.
When rehearsals first began, 18-year-old Bethany Keel, who plays Belle, started to feel the pressure of living up to people’s expectations.
“I felt that weight on myself for the first few weeks, feeling like I had all of these expectations to be this spectacular princess,” Keel said. “I've never had a lead role in a play before, but (director Ashley) Burrage is wonderful and encouraged me every step of the way.”
To play the famously bookish Disney princess, Keel began “channeling her inner Belle,” and discovered something about herself.
“I'm learning that we are a lot more alike than I had thought,” she said. “She's a small-town girl who doesn't quite fit in with the people around her all of the time, but sees hope in everything. She can't wait to get out there and experience new and exciting things, and I can relate to that a lot still being new to the Anniston community. I moved to Donoho my junior year.”
Tasked with playing the Beast is 18-year-old Richard Bateman, who describes himself as a “large person.” It’s an iconic role that’s proving to be quite an undertaking given the heat of the costume and the heavy makeup he’s asked to wear — but it’s been worth it, he said.
“The costume originally seemed to be quite the ordeal,” said Bateman. “It's not exactly comfortable temperature-wise and the immense volume of makeup is quite a pain to wear. However, when I first looked in the mirror, I realized that this elaborate costuming could help me get into the role of the Beast character. In a strange way, it is a bit of an inspiration in itself.”
Like his leading lady, Bateman has found a bit of himself in the much-maligned Beast.
“I know what it feels like to not have people see you as you are below the surface, and the relief that comes when you begin to let go of bitterness to become the person you were intended to be,” he said. “I have a lot of passion for the part and I hope to use it to augment the stellar cast and plot of the show.”
Beyond mere audience expectations, “Beauty and the Beast” is proving to be a challenge requiring the work of nearly the entire school.
“The whole school has really come together for this production — athletes coming in sweaty from practice to sing and transform into their roles, students who have never been a part of the play painting the set and helping glue and sew costume stuff together. Almost one-third of our entire school is involved,” Burrage said. “Really cool to see everyone coming together to help out.”
As with previous productions, 10 percent of the proceeds will go to 10eighteen.org, which pays for food, lodging and education for an entire year at the Ray of Hope School in Uganda. With proceeds and donations, Donoho has sent seven children to school so far.
“Being able to help others by doing something that I absolutely love is a rare opportunity that I am blessed to have,” said Keel. “(Burrage and Donoho) go above and beyond to make our productions as successful as possible and I am so blessed to say that I am a part of that team.”
IF YOU GO...
WHAT: The Donoho School presents Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Anniston Performing Arts Center, Anniston High School
COST: $5, tickets will be sold at the door before both performances and can be purchased in advance at Donoho.