The Shafter Children's Summer Theater enters its 28th year with a production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," originally performed in 1997.
The theater program was founded in 1995 by Cris Starrh. Starrh created this program because, "We lived in the country and there were not a lot of activities for my kids to do."
The program put on its first production at the Shafter High School auditorium, performing "101 Dalmatians." They have put on many musicals since, such as "The Aristocats," "Aladdin," "Peter Pan" and more.
After years of performing at the auditorium, the Starrh family bought and renovated the former Ford Motors dealership in Shafter, renaming it to the Ford Theater..
Though they moved to a new building, Starrh continued the same foundation, by keeping the program faith based.
As they prepare for the summer season, Starrh looks forward "to building character in these kids, and bringing many of them out of their shells.".
The theater group provides a growth opportunity for children and their parents over the summer. Starrh says this is a "good and healthy summer activity for them," With her daughter, Dana, by her side as the main director, Starrh is hopeful that this year will be a great success.
She says that her favorite part of managing the theater is when students who have graduated come back and help her cast, direct and build sets. "It's amazing to see that after 28 years it's still going,"
Starrh is grateful for everyone who helps and supports the theater, "If it weren't for the youth and parents I would not have made it this far."
As more students join and continue to outgrow the performance space, the theater implemented a new program called Rising Stars. Starrh wanted this program to teach the younger generations the basics of theater. This program is open to kids in kindergarten to second grade.
Rising Stars performs before the main play. This year they will be showcasing "The Candy Jar" written by Cris Starrh's brother, Larry, who she says is "my biggest inspiration" as he directed theater with junior high students.
Starrh encourages parents to enroll their children saying, "It's a secure and safe place for the kids. We are unique compared to other theaters, as we focus solely on the kids, we are all family here."
The auditions for "Willy Wonka" will be held on Thursday, May 6, at 2 p.m. at the Ford Theater. Workshops for auditions will be held on Saturdays, April 8, 15, 22 and 29, at 2 p.m. Roles are open to students grades 3-8.
Registration runs until Friday, May 5, and the cost is $50 per student. Register by going to the Facebook group page at Shafter C'hildrens Summer Theater or by calling the office at 661-630- 4059.