‘Flapper!’: BKW troupe to don their cloches in ‘mad-cap tribute to the Roaring Twenties’

Berne-Knox-Westerlo senior Emily Purcell, left, and Emma Gardiner, right, share the stage as Aunt Augusta and a Flapper Girl, respectively, during rehearsals for the BKW Theatre Group's March performance of "Flapper!"

(This event has been cancelled due to public health concerns.)

HILLTOWNS — What’s impressive about any large-scale performance, and especially that which pulls talent between the ages of 11 and 18, is that 20-some odd minds and personalities can coalesce around a single idea and drive it home for an audience.

The dedication required for that feat was on display Monday evening while The Enterprise sat in on a rehearsal for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Theatre Troupe, a coalition of children from sixth grade on up, which will be performing the musical “Flapper!” over the weekend of March 27.

“Flapper!” is a “mad-cap tribute to the Roaring Twenties,” director Penny Shaw-Bartley said, centered around a young flapper named Polly Pepper, an immensely likable girl who will soon inherit a priceless diamond necklace that will be targeted by speakeasy gangsters looking to get rich quick. 

The role of Pepper is played by BKW senior Paige Brown, who was absent from that night’s rehearsal, while her four antagonists are played by senior Isabella Doherty, sophomore Ella Carey, freshman Julia Sherman, and senior Kiki Lefkaditis. 

Meanwhile, Pepper’s aunt, played by Senior Emily Purcell, accidently hires two con artists — played by junior Ryan Bungay and sophomore Lilly Ritter — who she thinks are providing expert advice on stocks and bonds.

As the kids trickled in from their classes before the rehearsal’s official start-time of 3:30, the atmosphere could best be described as eclectic and thoroughly modern. Troupers buzzed around Shaw-Bartley, asking questions about their lines and costumes and payments, pulling her attention every which way. 

Elsewhere, three boys discussed the particulars of lightsaber combat (the adjudication: a competitor with 15 arms would cream any other in a duel, even one with spider-legs); alone in a corner, a girl practiced dance moves that would have no place in a musical about the 1920s; and a world-wearied kid of 13-at-the-oldest lamented to his friends the crush of a schedule that included theater rehearsal, tae kwon do, and homework for classes that his mom doesn’t know he’s failing.

Yet, as 3:30 neared, Abercrombie jeans became workman’s trousers and shimmering evening-wear, upstate twang morphed into shaky but recognizable mid-Atlantic accents, and that eclectic and thoroughly modern group launched into their opening honky-tonk number. 

“[The kids] have risen to the challenges of the production with energy, enthusiasm and definitely humor!,” Shaw-Bartley told The Enterprise in an email after the rehearsal. “Some of the older students have jobs and many cast members are involved in sports and other extracurricular activities. So juggling everyone’s conflicts is a challenge for both director and cast members.

“But these young people have made sure to study their lines, songs, and dances during whatever free time they may have throughout their busy lives,” Shaw-Bartley continued, “and their dedication to the musical shines through every time they step onto that stage.”

Shaw-Bartley told The Enterprise that the reason for selecting “Flapper!” was two-fold.

“First, it offers a lot of speaking roles which gives more cast members more opportunities to shine,” she said. “Second, it seemed to be the perfect time to perform a play about the Twenties.”

The feat of production was accomplished not only by the efforts of the children, but of adults in the community. Shaw-Bartley’s husband, Rich Bartley, has been by her side as she deals with the varying needs and concerns of the cast, in some cases working with some members directly while Shaw-Bartley attends to other matters, she said.

“And we have had three fun-filled nights where both cast members and their parents have come to help construct sets and props,” Shaw-Bartley added. “It truly has been a team effort, and so very much appreciated.”

The Enterprise also spoke with a young cast member, Clara Thomas, who plays the role of Bunny, a flapper girl in the production’s ensemble. At 11 years old, this is her second musical and, reportedly, she does not suffer from stage fright.

The hardest part, then?

“Hm,” Clara thought. “I would say the dancing.”

Nevertheless, she said the musical has been a lot of fun.


Showtimes are: Friday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m. at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo secondary-school auditorium.  

Admission is a suggested donation of $10 per person at the door.

More Hilltowns News

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  • Peter Hotaling, Westerlo’s former assessor, withdrew the Article 78 proceding he had filed against the town after it unceremoniously allowed other candidates to apply for the position. Hotaling had been in the position for 19 years, and now works as Rensselaerville’s sole assessor.

  • After her husband’s suicide last year, Berne resident Jennifer Williams’s life has transformed as she signals optimism and strength for her two young children while pregnant with a third. She hopes her story will inspire others to remain strong in the face of devastating adversity. 

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