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Friends Theater

By Cookie Steponaitis

When Americans refer to the ‘movers and shakers’ in society names of scientists, athletes, world leaders and powerful business icons pop up. Yet on occasion you meet a young person equipped with passion, purpose and minds that are already well ahead of their age. Meet Vergennes resident Chance Koenig and his friends.
     Chance was given a book called Drama by Raina Telgemeier for Christmas in 2016 and found himself transported into the drama filled world of Callie, an energetic drama queen with purple hair who takes center stage as a middle school drama department’s premier set designer. When Chance emerged from his reading of the book an idea of life changing proportions began to take place. Chance promptly shared with his parents that he wanted to start a theater company, write and produce plays and create elaborate sets. This would all be accomplished by children and the adults would serve only as mentors when issues presented. They acknowledged their son with the thought that it was just a kid’s idea and that it would blow over quickly; they had no idea what Chance had in mind and what he would set in motion.
    At nine years old Chance is already an old hand at running Friends Theater and for the past two years has been at the helm. Friends Theater is a child-run theater group that brings people together to have fun and celebrate the power of theater. Whether it is clips of shows, acting out their own versions of cartoons and music videos or Where the Wild Things Are, Chance and his friends have an agenda and plan and are setting the bar high for summer 2018.
“We are producing our own version of the show Hamilton,” explained the young thespian. “My friends and I are planning to do a production at my home and perhaps at the Bixby Library and again at the Boys & Girls Club.” Chance is currently writing grants and submitting them to a local organization to help purchase a $300.00 sound system to help increase the capability of the young actors and actresses.
    Once Chance set his idea in motion, friends like Phoebe Raphael, Cailie Ballard, David Coburn, Jeremy Demers, Bee and Ellie Eckels, Sophia and Ryan Johnson, Avery Hohenschau, Ivah Parker, and James Peterson, and came on board to not only perform in the 2016 production of Where the Wild Things Are, but the following year they were joined by more friends including Quincy Sabick, Gabe Roussin and Abby Flint, for the 2017 show Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. While the group begins with a well-known production, it is quickly adapted into the imagination and hearts of the 10-12 local kids who come out each year to be a part of the production. Another unique feature of the Friends Theater production is time devoted to improvisation and letting each actor and actress have their moment to take it to a new destination within that moment. Friends Theater member nine-year-old Phoebe Raphael shared, “If you can see the audience it really is wonderful to see their faces at the funny parts of the production and to interact with them.” Raphael and Sabick also help fundraise for the goals set by the students by running a fresh lemonade stand on in the Little City during the months of May-July.
No stranger to stage and acting, Chance Koenig shared he has been performed in productions of the Middlebury Actor’s Workshop and Middlebury Community Players, as well as Town Hall Theater and Very Merry Theater camps and classes, beginning when he was six. Always one with an eye on the future, Chance wants to get the word out about how he and his friends are working hard and hope that Addison County residents will stop in this summer to see the latest of their productions. Chance and his friends have dual roles serving as actors in their productions and on the Friends Theater Board of Directors. “I really want to showcase my friends for all their hard work,” explained the young actor and businessman.
    People wanting to learn more but can reach out to Chance’s dad Mark Koenig at koenig.mark@gmail.com to learn where the group will be appearing this summer.  People can also check out the new website at www.friendstheater.org.
    “Thanks for the chance at some publicity,” concluded the Addison County mover and shaker. “It will really help to get the word out. We love what we do, but the more people that we can involve and spread joy to makes it all the more special.” With tech goals and expanded productions on the horizon, Friends Theater will eventually grow with the kids into their teen years and beyond. Right now, the age limit is ages 7-11 and both Chance and Phoebe want the kids in the valley to know that they are a kid operated and kid run organization. All of the Friends Theater leadership are a whopping nine or ten years old, but despite the youth are creating a vision that combines theater, imagination, production and script writing into fun for all ages. The Valley Voice agrees and celebrates Chance Koenig and his friends for their love of theater, entertaining and ability at such a young age to take a concept and make it a reality.

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