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What’s the Top-Secret Personal Beeswax?

November 15, 2018

Anna Simka, a student at Alan B. Shepard Elementary School in Bourbonnais, found that she has a few things in common with Junie B. Jones, the lead role in “Junie B. Jones Jr.: The Musical,” which is set to hit the Kankakee Valley Theatre Association’s Young People’s Theatre stage this weekend.

“I used to wear glasses, I had a lot of problems in first grade, and I just met a lot of new friends in first and second grade, and now I’m continuing to meet more friends in fourth grade,” Simka said.

In the musical, Junie finds out that they’re are several changes up ahead for her on her first day of first grade — Junie’s best friend, Lucille, has found new best friends, she makes friends with Herb, the new kid at school, and she has trouble reading the blackboard in Mr. Scary’s class, prompting her to get glasses.

The best part for the nine-year-old Simka? She can write all this (and more), down in her new “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax” journal, bought by her mom.

This may be Anna’s first show with KVTA, but she’s no stranger to the stage. Previously, Anna has performed in Bradley Bourbonnais Theatre Education Project’s “Lion King,” “Wizard of Oz,” “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” and Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”

From Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, the creators who brought you Dear Edwina and Dear Edwina Jr., comes “Junie B. Jones Jr. The Musical” is an adaptation of four of Barbara Park’s best-selling books, brought to life.

Onstage, Anna performs alongside nine-year-old Katie McBurnie, (portraying Lucille), as enemies, but offstage, they’re best friends.

“We’re in the same class,” Simka said.

“It’s really hard to play enemies,” McBurnie said.

“But it’s easier, because we can just do all our lines at recess,” Simka said.

With a cast of 49 kids, ranging from ages of six through 15, some of the cast members are playing adults, taking on the role as Junie’s parents, an adored lunch lady and her teacher, Mr. Scary.

Jacob Schindler, a 12-year-old home-schooled student and the second-oldest of seven siblings, stepped into the role of Junie’s teacher, Mr. Scary, with no problem.

“I have a lot of younger siblings, so I take the role as one of the oldest, and it’s fun! I enjoy it,” he said.

Director Jill Shapkauski found herself directing her first full-length show with “Junie.”

“I’ve acted in and directed with the 10-minute play festivals that KVTA has put on in the past, and I helped out with sound at last year’s ‘Dear Edwina’” Shapkauski said. “I was also Mrs. Van Dan in last year’s ‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’ with Limelight Theatre Works in Kankakee.”

As for Anna, she brought something specific to her audition that made Shapkauski know that she was her “Junie.”

“Auditions were nearly impossible! We have so much talent in this area,” Shapkauski said. “The characteristic in Anna’s audition that I loved, was that she played Junie as droll; she has that dry way of responding that I had always associated with Junie, and she made me laugh.”

Also with a large cast, there can be challenges.

“Staying focused is our biggest challenge,” Shapkauski said. “The kids have fun with each other, and it can be a challenge to keep them on task.”

But that doesn’t take away from the big picture.

“I love to see kids loving what they’re doing,” Shapkauski said. “Theater has always been part of my life in some way or another, and to take my love of theater and combine it with their love of performing is so much fun. And they’re so smart! So many kids have made the show better by sharing ideas they have for characters, props, costumes and more.”

“Junie B. Jones Jr.” will be showing at the Lincoln Cultural Center (240 Warren Ave., Kankakee), at 7 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12, and can be found here. (kvta.org).

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