Denise Ruemping knows what it’s like to stand in front of a classroom of kids trying to hold the attention of those active imaginations.
“I used to be a school teacher myself,” said Ruemping, who is directing “Miss Nelson is Missing,” the classroom story that opens Jan. 30 at Rochester Civic Theatre. “This is a book I have enjoyed for a number of years. It not only teaches you that you shouldn’t misbehave in class, it also shows how creative teachers can be in trying to reach their students.”
Those, like Ruemping, who possess a theatrical bent might even resort to props. “I’ve donned a costume in my classroom,” she said.
Miss Nelson, the classroom teacher who is the title character of this play, does something similar. When her students become unruly, Miss Nelson disappears and returns disguised as a drill-sergeant-styled substitute, Miss Swamp. Not until they’ve mended their ways do the students discover who’s who.
The story is adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher from the popular children’s book by Harry Allard and James Marshall.
Some theaters have staged the play with adults playing the role of the classroom students. Ruemping, who is director of education at RCT, opted to cast teens as Miss Nelson’s second-grade class.
“Every single one of them has been a student of mine or is a student of mine,” she said. The young actors have participated in various troupes at RCT. “They all know each other very well,” Ruemping said.
“They’re having a ton of fun,” she continued. “It’s a strong ensemble cast. The seven students are on stage all the time.”
The classroom cast consists of Jack Harrington, Anna Hammell, Ian Gill, Anastacia Bolkwadze, Corie Casper, Elizabeth Trewartha-Weiner and Josiah Rutgers.
Joining them are grownups Matthew Marshall in dual roles as the school principal and a detective on the case of the missing Miss Nelson. Meanwhile, Melissa Gergen, in her second consecutive lead role at RCT, is Miss Nelson.
Like Ruemping, Gergen knows her way around a classroom; she’s an elementary school teacher in Pine Island.
“I think she finds the Miss Swamp character very cathartic,” Ruemping said of Gergen. “She really gets into that character.”
Although the story is aimed at children, adults will find plenty to enjoy, Ruemping said. “I don’t feel like this dumbs anything down,” she said.
And, after all, we’ve all been in a classroom, and known a Miss Nelson — and a Miss Swamp — at one time or another.
If you go
What: “Miss Nelson is Missing”
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30 through Feb. 8.
Where: Rochester Civic Theatre, 20 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester
Tickets: $24 adults, $19 senior citizens, $17 students; 507-282-8481