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South Brunswick Seniors Spend a Day With the Characters

Annual event joins seniors citizens with middle school students for a performance of a play at Crossroads before lunch at the senior center.

In the midst of the daily activity in the , a king and queen, minstrel and princess strolled through the door to a round of hearty applause from all who gathered. The odd sight was merely a part of the yearly intergenerational partnership between the senior center and the South Brunswick School District with the 7th annual "Day with the Characters" event.

The “Day with the Characters” allowed seniors the chance to view the opening performance of the  production of "Once Upon a Mattress" at the school, before joining with the kids in full costume back at the senior center for lunch and a sing-along.

"This is such a great intergenerational experience for the seniors, to get into the school and see the talent the kids have," said Office on Aging Director Christine Wildemuth. "Every year one of the seniors says I can't believe they did a better job than last year, but it seems like it's true. They feel like they're seeing a Broadway-quality show.

"The best part is that the cast comes back to have lunch with them. They sit and chat about the show and get to tell the kids how appreciative they are about the performance."

Approximately 100 seniors attended the morning show, which was put on by about 140 kids in the cast, crew and orchestra. Seniors in attendance said they were impressed by the professionalism of such a young group.

"Last year was the first time I saw one of these and the kids are so talented," said John Konopka. "My granddaughter was in the play last year, but they were so good we said we have to go see the play this year, even though my granddaughter moved on to the high school."

Konopka praised every aspect of the show, saying the combined efforts of all students involved helped to make the performance click.

"I really enjoyed the music, the orchestra deserves plenty of compliments as well," he said. "I can't believe those are middle school students. All the kids were great and the dancers were wonderful."

The "Day With the Characters" also benefits students by bridging the generational gap and providing them with a new point of view.

"The kids get to hear some new perspectives and ideas from people who've even seen the original Broadway show," said Director and Crossroads music teacher Sandra Olson. "This also builds an intergenerational connection for the kids, and it's nice for the seniors to interact with the students because they may not get to do that elsewhere."

For students in the play, the best part about "Day With the Characters" was simply getting the chance to do what they enjoy.

"I love to make people laugh and make people smile, so it's great when you see the audience getting into it," said eighth-grader Jordan Hudec. "I get to be somebody different from who I am in real life and make people smile. It's also great to meet new people. They get so excited and tell us that they're proud of us, so that gets us happy and makes us feel confident."

Other kids in the show agreed that "Day With the Characters" provides them with a huge confidence boost.

"The seniors are just so happy for us and happy that we're there," said sixth-grader Michaela Sanders. "One person came up to me and said congratulations and that they wish the best for us. That just makes us feel really good."

Michaela added that the entire cast and crew get a thrill from the performance.

"We love getting the reaction from the audience, because we're all like a huge family," she said. "We're proud of that and feel like we accomplished something. It's really exciting."

Regardless of the size or age of the audience, the kids in the play are ready to entertain, Olson added.

"They just love when the house lights go down and the applause happens," she said.

The rest of South Brunswick will get a chance to see the talented kids in the Crossroads performance of "Once Upon a Mattress" this week as well.

Performances are set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at , starting at 7:30 p.m. all three nights. Tickets cost $7 for students and $10 for adults.

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