Centennial Middle School teacher Kristi Mabee relaxes in a chair with the cast of her student play

Kristi Mabee is making her directorial debut at the same Ahwatukee middle school she attended 13 years ago.

As the theatre teacher for Centennial Middle School, the Mountain Park High School grad is presenting Neil Simon’s 1981 comedy, “Fools,” at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at the school, 13808 S. 36th St., Ahwatukee. Admission is $5 and $3 for students, with proceeds going to the school’s theater fund.

The story involves a village somewhere in Russia in the 1600s that has been cursed with “foolishness” for over 200 years. It is up to a new school teacher to come to the village and try to break the curse before he himself becomes a “fool” too.

“The play was originally written to be performed by adults but, my kids took on the challenge of a mature script and have been doing really well. It is a family-friendly comedy with lots of laughs,” said Mabee, who chose the play partly because it called for a small cast and had a fun plot.

Auditioning since Thanksgiving, the cast and stage crew have presented Mabee with a rewarding challenge.

“The biggest challenge is probably trying to get everyone to focus and work,” she said. “I always tell them, ‘Yes, our work is fun, but we have a job to do here.’ Trying to wrangle 15 or so young teens is not a simple task. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get serious and be in teacher mode. These kids are just so funny.”

So is the script, she added.

“The first time we did a full read-through of the play, we were all cracking up,” Mabee recalled. “The humor is clever and sometimes hidden; when we read through it, they picked up on all of the jokes and really fell in love with the script and the characters.”

The cast members differ greatly in stage experience, with some having been in community theater, others who are in Mabee’s class and others who have never acted before.

“The variety of experience makes it fun,” Mabee said. “We are always learning and teaching one another. It’s great to step back and watch the kids mentor each other and provide tips.”

Some actors and actresses did not initially heed her reminders to memorize the script ‒ one actor finally did in one night.

Mabee also said she was blessed with some help in getting the set together.

“I am really lucky to have a talented boyfriend who is a carpenter/contractor,” she. Said. “He helped me bring my vision to life on stage with the help of a few other teachers and parents. I also have a very talented colleague who sketches and helped the kids paint the set. The set is pretty elaborate for a middle school show. We also borrowed a lot of set pieces from our neighboring school, Mountain Pointe.”

It was at Mountain Pointe where Mabee nurtured her acting bug.

“I was fully involved at Mountain Pointe in their theatre company,” she explained. “I also was involved in dance and choir there. I had the privilege of playing some amazing characters: Helen Keller in ‘The Miracle Worker,’ the leading lady Mabel in ‘Pirates of Penzance.’ I also was a sound and lighting technician there on a few shows. I learned a lot in high school. It became my passion.

“I chose to pursue a theatre degree in college. I graduated with my bachelor’s in theatre in 2013, worked for Disney world as a character performer and returned to Arizona for my master’s in education.”

Mabee still works Mountain Pointe’s theater sponsor, Kim Bonagofski, and runs with her an improv group comprising students from Centennial and the high school.

She estimates she has already put in more than 150 extra hours into shaping the show.

“I know the time and effort will be worth it once I see the kids up there in full costume, doing what they love and seeing the technicians hard work come to life,” she said, adding:

“The kids love it and it’s a great learning experience for me and for them. I met some of my best friends participating in theatre and I hope these kids have the same experience.”

“I always tell everyone how hard my job is but how incredibly fun it is, too. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Being a teacher is such an important job. I am proud of what I do. It’s been my dream to be a theatre teacher and I can’t believe that dream came true.”

The cast includes: Jacob Stewart, Yaniv Golden, Connor Murray, Addison Harvey, Ashia Ramos, Anna Osenkarski, Zane Ronis, Claire Gustin, Mantra Rostami, Nick Haddad, Brody Stoffa, Kylie Stinson and Grace Urbinato.

The crew consists of Sophie Mahon, Lauren Doller, Trevor Perry, Max Payne and Vanessa Haddad.

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