WATERVILLE — Jettah Files was painting the red cover of a large wooden platform carefully Monday morning at the Waterville Opera House, while her classmates added touches of orange, pink and black.

“I think this is really going to help me in the future,” said Files, 17, a student at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. “I’ve learned how to iron, seam, paint. I’ve just learned a lot of real-world things.”

The platform the students were working on, though far from finished Monday morning, eventually will serve as a cornerstone of the set for “Seussical the Musical,” which plays at the Opera House June 15-17 and June 22-24.

The show, based on the collected works of children’s author Dr. Seuss, whose full name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, tells the fantastical tale of Horton the elephant, who faces ridicule, danger and kidnapping while trying to protect a cast of humanlike Whos. The Cat in the Hat, one of Dr. Seuss’ better-known characters, narrates the show and will jump out of the platform made by the students.

The show is one of two community theater productions that students from MCI will have helped produce this school year via a partnership that provides them with experiential learning and the Opera House with over 100 combined hours of volunteer work.

“It’s real-world learning,” said Debra Susi, the show’s director and a theater arts teacher at MCI. “Anytime you can take what you’re learning in the classroom and it becomes more than just a theory or a conversation and it becomes actualized, that’s what life’s about. That’s making the learning real.”

Susi typically has her students volunteer on a show at the Opera House once each semester. While in class they learn about set design and the technical aspects of theater, the trip to the Opera House gives them the chance to apply their skills on a real stage, something MCI doesn’t have, she said. For the first time this semester, students are designing all of the show’s costumes.

The four hours they spent volunteering Monday also can be applied toward their school’s community service requirement.

“Most of it probably won’t get finished today, but having 30 high school students work for four hours is so much labor off of our very small staff,” said Tamsen Brooke Warner, executive director of the Waterville Opera House. “Them taking tons of labor off our hands is really great. It’s also a great learning experience for them. And we compensate them with pizza.”

While a small group of students worked on the platform in one area of the Opera House, others were busy painting a brightly colored set on the main stage.

“We don’t have a stage at school, which is kind of a downside, but they have a beautiful stage here,” said Isaac Tardy, 15. “And we get to work with adults and professionals and use what we’re learning in school here. It helps a lot. I had focused on costumes in school, but we’d never done the design process and drawing them, so we’re learning a lot more now that we hadn’t done before.”

Tardy, who hopes to one day become an attorney, is among a handful of students who will appear in “Seussical” in addition to having worked on the set and costumes.

“Theater definitely helps with communication, and you make all kinds of great connections with adults who will write amazing letters of recommendation,” he said. “And it’s also really awesome because a lot of the people who come see the show, you make connections with them as well. When people in the community see you and say, ‘Hey you were in “Seussical,”‘ or ‘Hey, you work at the Opera House,’ it’s really nice.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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