The Show Must Go On

At POPS, kids are the actors, techs and creative force behind a theatre company.

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  • Written by
    Kate Gammon

Five years ago, Puttin On Productions—a Manhattan Beach-based kids theatre company—produced The Little Mermaid. The boy who played the Prince in the younger cast–about 10 years old—lost his singing voice midway through the production. The teenage prince in the older show sang for him offstage while the younger actor lip-synched onstage.

“In school kids don’t always have that platform to be themselves in a quirky, weird space.”

“We gave him a microphone and told him to sing, but he sang the Prince songs nearly two octaves lower,” recalls Julia Mirkovich, who founded and runs POPS. “So this very deep and big voice was coming from a very small boy who would do whatever it took to be there for his cast. But the kids are all in by this point in the process and committed to something that is bigger than themselves. It was really beautiful.”

Ten years ago Julia was a dance teacher and professional dancer, pregnant with her first child. She knew her body needed a break, and she loved seeing children transform as they learned to sing and dance in a musical theatre setting. “In school kids don’t always have that platform to be themselves in a quirky, weird space.”

The idea for POPS—a nonprofit theatre company for kids—was born. The first show took place at the Hermosa Community Center in 2007.

Since those times the company has grown from 35 students to more than 150, ages 7 to 17, performing nine productions per year. Julia also started TADA, a theatre and classes for kids ages 3 to 11. The programs for younger actors culminate in a mini-performance in a black box theatre.

The company also runs programs for special needs kids and has the only theatre tech classes for kids in the South Bay. “Maybe kids don’t want to be on stage, but we can teach design, lighting, sound, props, costumes, directing … anything on the creative side.”

All this adds up to productions that are close to the real deal. “POPS is kind of like my favorite thing,” says Chloe Estrin, 11, who is working on her 10th production with POPS. “I love looking at movies and seeing how they act and applying it to the shows I’m in.” She recently learned to tap dance for a production of Anything Goes, and it’s now one of her favorite forms of dance.

Chloe says she loves how everyone–older actors and younger—pitches in to help out. Julia agrees. Five years after the incident with The Little Mermaid, another illness epidemic hit the cast of this year’s show. The actress who played Ariel had a fever of 105º and no voice.

“She cried her eyes out, mom got her to urgent care to get the medicine needed, and then she pulled herself together to give her very best show so all of the kids could still have theirs,” says Julia. POPS’ musical director sang for her from off-stage. It was hard for everyone, but also an opportunity for growth.

“Some very tough life lessons were learned, but in the face of a storm they all persevered,” she says. “This is what theatre does for young people.”

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