By Billy Corriher
Mary Kraack said it's hard to believe how long she's been working with local students to produce shows at the Clayton Alliance for Summer Theatre.
"I can't even imagine that 15 years has passed," she said. "The time's just flown by."
Kraack said the CAST program moves quickly every summer, with just a month to rehearse before all the plays open.
"That's a lot to produce in such a short time," she said.
To honor the program's anniversary, Kraack is producing the "CAST 15th Anniversary Spectacular," featuring a look back at the shows, songs and dances that have been presented at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center over the years.
During the one-night-only performance on July 10, some former CAST actors will reprise their old roles.
"It'll be different from anything we've done before," she said.
Kraack said she has kept in touch with many of the actors who have graced the CAST stage since she started the program.
"Most of our kids have grown up and now they're teenagers or adults," she said. "It's gonna be great to have some of them back."
Kraack said a few CAST alumni have moved on to professional acting roles, including Michael Vaughn, a former student of Kraack's who is now producing the anniversary special.
Vaughn said his time studying under Kraack did much to prepare him for his future acting roles.
"She is the reason I'm successful at what I do," he said.
Vaughn said CAST also prepared him for owning his own production company by showing him the ropes of behind-the-scenes preparation.
"There's a lot more that goes into it than just the performers on stage," he said.
Vaughn said young aspiring actors in Clayton County are lucky to have the opportunity to work with Kraack at CAST.
"She cares about nothing but high-quality theater and the passion that people have for good theater," he said.
Vaughn said the program gets a lot of support from parents of the actors and from the community.
"The main resource they have is a community which cares about the students out there who want to pursue acting," he said.
Vaughn said the anniversary show will be a special night not only for the returning CAST actors but also for volunteers and others in the community that support the program.
"It's going to be a big night for all of us," he said.
Kraack said that one reason CAST focuses on musicals is because they require many performers, which allows CAST to utilize more people from the community.
"That's kind of our specialty," she said.
This year's lineup includes two musicals, "Dear Edwina, Jr.," on June 18-20, and "Schoolhouse Rock, Live, Jr.," on June 25-26. Both of the plays will highlight performers that are eight years old to 14 years old.
The 15th anniversary special will also feature musical numbers from CAST's first show, "Annie," and from 1998's "The Fabulous Chocolate Factory," which featured original music for CAST based on the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl.
The special will also include a number from "The Music Man," a popular CAST production.
"That's a show audiences are still talking about," Kraack said.