Third-grader Braden Cranny will sing "all by myself," the 8-year-old intoned seriously on the stage at Brooksville Elementary School.
"I have to hug him in the end," Caeden Wilson, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, pronounced.
Braden is "a little" scared; Caeden is "a little nervous."
The come-alive skeleton and giant talking doll, respectively, are taking the leads in Nightmare Before Christmas, a stage production celebrating the 17th annual Lights on Afterschool, a national endeavor spearheaded by the Afterschool Alliance and being played out locally by the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County.
As events nationwide aim to call attention to the importance of after-school programs for America's children, on Oct. 20 each of six units of the Boys & Girls Club in Hernando will perform dramatic productions at their gathering sites. Overall, some 450 youngsters will participate. School students, families and the public are invited.
The plays are the culmination of a learn-and-have-fun endeavor for club members, Drama Matters, that for the first time is being offered at all local Boys & Girls Club sites this year.
"It's teaching the kids the art of stagecraft," said Donnie Oxley III, unit director at Brooksville Elementary, "the technical terms like stage right and stage left, also set design, stage lighting, props."
"The thing I like about Drama Matters, if they don't like to act, they may like to do sets or costumes or work on production," said Boys & Girls Club executive officer Joshua Kelly.
"They pick what they think is a really cool thing to do," added Oxley.
Backstage at Brooksville Elementary, 7-year-old Logan Sowers gestured to a half-dozen of his peers, saying proudly, "We built the sets. They have wheels on them. (Mr. Donnie) is going to whisper when we have to move them. We have to be quiet so (the audience) doesn't hear us," a challenge for the rambunctious youngsters.
Another plus of Drama Matters, said Kelly: "It helps us build relationships with the community." Stage West Community Playhouse is lending costumes and props for several of the productions.
There also are other new or revamped Hernando club pursuits this year.
The Taco Bell Foundation has awarded a $15,000 grant locally to help implement a national Boys & Girls Club movement, Year of the Teen. Aimed at engaging more teens — the club serves youth through age 18 — the money will help buy technology equipment, which also fits into the club's STEAM pursuits in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Purchases will include 3-D printers; vinyl plotters for making signs, banners and T-shirts, and disc jockey equipment.
"They're all to help engage (teens) and give children opportunities to learn skills that they can use in the workforce in time," Kelly said.
Staffers also are undertaking creative uses of technology, For instance, said Kelly, when youths are looking at long-term goals and opportunities, it's suggested they use their smartphones as a research tool to find costs associated with their desires.
In an effort to encourage young people to get up and away from their technology devices, club members are engaged in the National Fitness Competition.
"They compete against themselves (after) setting their own goals," said area director Jackie Espinal.
Another Olympic-style contest will be scheduled next spring when competitors attempt to improve on their previous bests.
The Hernando Boys & Girls Club's average daily attendance is 521 youths at 12 sites. Additional information is available by calling (352) 666-0068.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]