Theater Magic
August 1988

“Theater Magic,” New Era, Aug. 1988, 36

Theater Magic

When it comes to helping stage-struck school kids, 15-year-old Braden has that magic touch.

Opening night—that magic moment when the lights are dimmed and the audience is waiting for the first note of music.

It is just such an opening night for a group nervously waiting to go on stage, but instead of a cast of adults, the actors and stagehands are children ages 6 to 12. Their director and the mastermind behind the idea of presenting a full-fledged musical at the elementary school level is 15-year-old Braden Bell. And now, at opening night, he is giving last minute instructions to his cast, offering encouragement, and speaking into his headset, “Let’s go! All lights out.”

A youngster with a headset larger than his head looks at the clipboard he carries and flips the switch to start the show. A minute later, “Mary Poppins” walks down the aisle at the Knowlton Elementary School in Farmington, Utah.

Braden has always been interested in drama. He spent his time as a toddler with a pan on his head, talking to people no one could see. He made costumes out of old clothes. Later he organized plays using any of the neighborhood children he could talk into being the actors. The plays were produced in the Bell’s basement and were a frustration to him. “The only kids that would help him were the little ones, and they wouldn’t do what he told them to do. He was and is a perfectionist in the theater,” said JoLynn Bell, Braden’s mother.

When Braden approached his favorite elementary school teacher with the idea of producing Mary Poppins, at the school, she agreed. They approached the principal with the idea, and he gave them permission to use the school facilities. “I prayed a lot about doing the play and I always had a good feeling about it, so I knew it was the right thing to do,” Braden said. But even he was not prepared for the 350 students who auditioned to be in it. He had no idea that there would be such an interest in the production.

Managing a cast of first through sixth graders takes a lot of time and a lot of diplomacy. Braden organized mothers, fathers, and other students into committees to help him. This night the audience can see that the production is full of his imagination. He has taken simple things and solved set design problems. The toys in the bedroom were wired so that stage crew could just pull strings and have the toys magically “spring” onto their shelves.

“I can almost sit back and watch the play and be objective about it because I know that we had our Heavenly Father’s help,” Braden said. “I was just the tool he used to put it all together.”

Braden is no stranger to the stage. He started taking creative drama classes when he was nine. He was a member of the Academy of Gifted and Talented Entertainers sponsored by the local school district. In high school he was part of the drama team putting on plays and musicals. While he was heading up the Mary Poppins production, he was simultaneously rehearsing for a school play and his ward’s road show. “That was one of the happiest times of my life. I just went from one rehearsal to another.”

Besides loving the theater and designing props and costumes, Braden plays the piano, sings in the ward choir, and is learning to speak Spanish. He plans to go on a mission as soon as he is old enough.

A burst of applause signals that the play is over. The curtain calls begin. At first people are just applauding, but then they stand on their feet clapping wildly. Finally Braden comes onto the stage. The audience knows that they have witnessed a small miracle and clap louder.

The crowd leaves and the auditorium is again in semidarkness when Braden finally finishes putting the last chairs away. He looks around and can still see the people, the performers, the magic. This is theater, a lot of hard work for that one moment when the lights dim to a golden glow and someone whispers, “Let’s go.”

Photography by Jo-Ann Callahan

Another opening of another show finds Braden sacrificing his own time to help aspiring mini-actors produce a musical. “I prayed a lot about doing the play, and I always had a good feeling,” he says.

The production of Mary Poppins was a sweeping success. Braden produced it while simultaneously working on a school play and a road show.