Above and beyond: SJ student puts on play for charity

Jacob Wells, left, spars with Cole Ingle during Monday’s rehearsal inside St. Joseph High School’s band room. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Jacob Wells, left, spars with Cole Ingle during Monday’s rehearsal inside St. Joseph High School’s band room. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Jacob Wells is going above and beyond for his 21st century literature class.

For his senior project, the St. Joseph High School student is putting on a play. It’s a lot more work than most other projects in school, but it serves a bigger purpose.

Wells is directing and acting in the play “Peter Pan” because of something he did during his Thanksgiving break in 2014.

The St. Joseph senior and his family spent that holiday weekend volunteering at Give Kids The World Village – a resort in Central Florida for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The experience had a big impact on Wells.

“It was amazing, unlike anything I’ve seen before,” Wells said. “My favorite part was seeing the kids smile and seeing how happy they were to have these things. It was a lesson to not take things for granted.”

The 70-acre nonprofit resort gives families access to Florida’s biggest attractions – like Disney World and Universal Studios – for a one-week, expense-paid vacation.

Wells first heard about the resort from a movie called “Letters to God,” in which a young boy fighting cancer wants to give kids the world.

During his time at the resort, Wells participated in a pirate party for some of the kids. Now he’s using his play to dress up as another pirate – Captain Hook – to help give kids a chance at happiness.

“I went into this not wanting to play a part,” he said. “Every (Captain) Hook we had had some issues and couldn’t do it because of time. I decided I would take on the role, and it has been a lot of fun.”

Playing the part

The cast is comprised of about 20 students from different schools, including St. Joseph, Lakeshore and Christ Lutheran. One of the volunteer actors is even home-schooled.

Wells read through a few shows and chose “Peter Pan” because of its familiarity to audiences and its appeal to all ages. Wells said he wanted to take a classic show and make it his own. With the help of his grandfather, who built a lot of the props and set pieces, Wells got creative.

After months of work and getting the project green light from his lit teacher, Wells started his search for Peter Pan and Wendy.

Through the meetings, writing the show on paper, drawing out the scenes, listening to different types of music, Wells formed an idea of how he wanted the show to look.

“This was all before casting started,” Wells said. “We had costume meetings. Light and stage meetings. We began planning for all the different aspects of the show.”

Using his self-made company, J Wade Productions, Wells is at home behind the camera. Wells said he plans to attend Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., to study film direction.

“It’s been my dream since sixth grade,” he said.

Lights, camera, action

Marissa Dunn, a senior at Lakeshore High School, said she heard about the play at the beginning of the year.

Dunn, who is Wells’ cousin, was offered the role of the older version of Wendy. She accepted the part once she found out who the play would benefit.

“I thought it was really great. These kids need something to look forward to and this would be a big help,” Dunn said. “This (play) is for somebody who doesn’t always get to laugh and enjoy themselves.”

St. Joseph junior Dakota Shapiro, a friend of Wells, also told him he would help with the show.

Shapiro watched the Disney version of “Peter Pan” as a kid and said it’s been a cool experience to play a character.

“I like the sword fights, they’re pretty fun,” said Shapiro, who is portraying Peter Pan’s friend, John. “It is nice to be a character because this is not something I normally do.”

Wells has gotten help from everyone, including the school.

Administrators allowed Wells to use the school’s sound and light equipment, allotted him the space to rehearse, and also secured the auditorium for the May 14 show.

Tickets are selling for $10 for the 7 p.m. show, with all the proceeds going to the charitable organization.

Wells said their goal is to raise $10,000 – which would allow two families the chance to take part in Give Kids The World.

“It’s been great being able to entertain the community and knowing it is going for a good cause,” Wells said. “It’s going to bring awareness to this place. It’s going to help so many people.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2016)


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