Hammond — Ava Parent, dressed as the Dormouse character in “Alice in Wonderland,” smiled broadly as she sipped tea and ate finger sandwiches at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Sunday afternoon.
The tea party was a fundraiser to benefit the Octavians Theater Program, the organization providing drama workshops, classes, plays and a theatrical summer camp for area youths.
Amidst Wonderland decorations, the Cate Square gazebo was filled with tables, teapots and old Victorian tea-time snacks for young guests and their families. Most were wearing flowers and sun hats.
Guests also were treated to impromptu performances by a number of the characters from the program’s upcoming production, “Alice in Wonderland.”
The seven performers, ranging from ages 7 to 16, were dressed in costumes and adopted the traits and personalities of their characters. They were performing a 15th-century style of traveling commedia dell’arte street theater. Each costumed child stayed in character throughout the afternoon.
At 10, Ava has been a member of the Octavians Theater Program for kids for more than two years. She has been in four plays and gained valuable theater experience.
“From the beginning, I really liked doing this and taking the classes from Mrs. Anna. She makes it fun and teaches us a lot,” Ava said. “I like it so much, I want to be an actress.”
Ava joined the other characters as they entertained, served the refreshments and organized the activities, Wonderland-themed games.
Attendees played croquet with the Queen of Hearts, 14-year-old Olivia Maurer, and tossed bean bags into top hats with the March Hare, portrayed by Alaina Klerk, 12, and the White Rabbit, Dane Schmitt, 13. Rayne Myers, 11, who played Alice, and Emory Foster, 15, organized the other activities, such as crafts and photographs with the characters.
The host of the afternoon’s tea party was the Mad Hatter, performed by Ponchatoula High School junior Ashlie Burke.
Burke, a charismatic and energetic member of the acting group, has been with the Octavians since its inception in 2007. She has never missed a production.
“I love being a part of the Octavians. There’s nothing I’d rather do then be an actress and onstage,” she said. “There are so many skills and techniques I’ve learned from being an Octavian and their acting workshops. I have already applied these skills to many other things in my life.”
Burke plans to study drama and theater in college. She is confident her background with Anna Pfeil, the artistic and executive director of the Octavians Foundation, will provide a good starting point for her dreams.
The cluster of moms working the event and those sitting in the shade observing their future stars parading around the square said they were excited and pleased with their children’s involvement in the theater group.
Alaina’s mom, Cara Klerk, and grandmother Dianne Arledge, of Ponchatoula, were pleased with her ability to have her own creative outlet.
“Alaina gets to be with other kids with similar interests. She likes performing for people,” Cara Klerk said. “She also loves helping and entertaining the little ones.”
Plans are underway for the “Alice in Wonderland” production. Auditions were held on Monday and Tuesday, so the group will begin rehearsals this week.
The group has 25 members and is open to all youths ages 6 to 17.
There is space available for more children to become members and to attend the upcoming two-week summer camp.
For more information on The Octavians Theater Program and Foundation for the Arts, call (985) 634-8122.