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'Hearts' raises funds with 1920s whodunit

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Enter "The Juice Box," a 1920s jazz bar filled with flappers and mobsters, where the music doesn't stop and the juice keeps coming. It also happens to be a stage for a murder most foul, which the public will be invited to solve — over dinner, of course.

"The Juice Box Bustle," an original, dinner-theater play and fund-raiser, performed by the Hearts to Nourish Hope Summer Apprenticeship Program, will take place with show times on June 30, July 1, and July 2, at 7 p.m., at Hearts to Nourish Hope's headquarters in Riverdale.

Local teens studying art, drama, and video will perform the murder mystery, while viewers will be able to enjoy a full-course meal, dessert, and interacting with performers.

Hearts to Nourish Hope Drama Director Patrice Wuerth said, "The Juice Box Bustle" represents the fifth consecutive year the program has performed an original play to raise funds for the organization, which provides jobs and summer enrichment for local teenagers. She said the sets, costumes, and props were all designed by students participating in the program, and that students will perform a variety of songs from musicals, such as "Chicago" and "Sweet Charity."

"It's the first time we have written anything like this," Wuerth said. "All of our groups work together to put this together. It's kind of a night at a twenties' club, then a murder happens and people try to solve it. It has everything your twenties' murder mysteries would have ... your mob boss, your private investigator, your diva. There is dancing and there is romance."

Wuerth said the Summer Apprenticeship Program has recently suffered serious cutbacks, due to less state grant funding, and that the fund-raiser will serve as a way to keep the program going.

"Usually, we are able to do this with 120 kids," Wuerth said. "This year, we've only been able to do it with 36, because the funding has been switched around. The whole point of the program is to keep kids out of trouble and [show] them careers in the arts. The money [from the play] will go back into the program."

Shakira Ballantyne, a Hearts to Nourish Hope counselor, and a dance education major at Jacksonville University in Florida, said the Summer Apprenticeship Program's play has traditionally been well received, even outside Clayton County. She said that, this year, the Jacksonville University Drama Department donated 15 pairs of period-accurate, 1920s shoes for students to wear during the performances.

"I feel like the community has responded to the play very well," Ballantyne said. "The students did a lot of research on clothing, hairstyles, lingo ... I really feel like the 1920s really come to life. It just shows you what people can accomplish."

Alannah Jackson, a rising senior at North Clayton High School, performs a leading role in the play as the proprietor of "The Juice Box." She said the performance is special, because it takes something from all of the students in the program.

"What I like the most is that we all got to write it," Jackson said. "Just seeing your creation come to life is awesome."

Tickets to the June 30 performance will cost $5, and will come with dessert only. A full dinner will be offered during the July 1 and July 2 performances, for a cost of $25 per ticket. Hearts to Nourish Hope is located at 345 Scott Road in Riverdale. For more information, call (770) 997-4517.