A professional middle school musical

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By Bobby Ellis
bobby.ellis@education.ky.gov

If there’s one thing that Carlee Cornett does not want someone walking out of the plays put on by Lincoln County Middle School to say it’s this: 

“That was cute.” 

“We can do better than cute,” said Cornett of her students and their productions. “We’re not in elementary school and we can do better. We have a lot of people walk away from our shows saying ‘I thought that was high school students.'”

As the students in her drama class near the closing number of their fall production “Elf the Musical Jr.,” snow machines can be heard kicking on and the white powder begins to float down from above the stage. 

The crowd of middle schoolers watching the production are noticeably impressed. Gasps of surprise, literal “oohs” and “aaahs” make their way through the crowd. 

“We’re better than cute,” said Cornett. 

Cornett arrived at Lincoln County Middle School in 2009 as a choir director and music teacher. Prior to her arrival, the middle school had only done two musicals. Now they do a yearly spring musical, but this is the first time that they’ve added a fall musical. Cornett spent nine weeks working with the students on drama, theater, production, music and choreography. For productions, students build the props and the set. 

“It’s completely student run,” said Cornett. “It’s amazing what kids can do.” 

After the show, the students ran outside to the front of the school and waited for the audience to be released. As the student audience came outside, cheers and applause erupted. The theater-goers made their way down the line of cast members handing out high fives. 

“It’s really cool, because a lot of people don’t expect this,” said Anna Story, who co-stars in the production as Jovie. “Having everyone come up and give you high fives afterwards like that, it’s awesome, seeing all your hard work pay off.” 

“It’s an amazing feeling being in something that’s this well done,” said Holden Stamper, who plays the main character, Buddy the Elf. “There’s this feeling inside that you can’t get anywhere else, honestly. You just get that rush and that adrenaline.” 

The arts program at Lincoln County Middle School has been cited as a model and is “recognized as a big deal in the community,” according to Jackie Risden-Smith, the chief academic officer at Lincoln County Schools. 

“Mainly, student interest was a huge part of it,” said Cornett. “My principal at the time, Debbie Sims, had this expectation that she really wanted to make it a thriving program, and I just ran with it. The parents fundraise for us, they give donations if they can’t fundraise.

“We’ve equipped the kids with time to put on a show, a class to learn what they’re doing. I’ve been very fortunate.” 

Peyton Ramsey, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, gets her makeup touched up by Stacey Clark before warm-ups for the morning performance of Elf, Jr. the Musical. Carlee Cornett's group of middle school actors perform for kindergarten and middle school students before opening the play up to the public. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Peyton Ramsey, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, gets her makeup touched up by Stacey Clark before warm-ups for the morning performance of “Elf the Musical Jr.” Carlee Cornett’s group of middle school actors perform for kindergarten and middle school students before opening the play up to the public.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Tammy Smith, left, helps her daughter Bae-Bae Smith with her make-up backstage just before the curtain call. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Tammy Smith, left, helps her daughter Bae-Bae Smith with her make-up backstage just before the curtain call.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett gives instructions to cast members before the start of the morning show. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett gives instructions to cast members before the start of the morning show.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett leads the Elf, Jr. cast members in warm-ups before the start of the show. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett leads the “Elf Jr.” cast members in warm-ups before the start of the show.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Seth Reynolds, an 8th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, puts on his Santa wig backstage. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Seth Reynolds, an 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, puts on his Santa wig backstage.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett, the music teacher at Lincoln County Middle School, left, helps Holden Stamper, 8th-grade, playing Buddy the Elf, tape his microphone to his face backstage. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Carlee Cornett, the music teacher at Lincoln County Middle School, left, helps 8th-grader Holden Stamper, who is playing Buddy the Elf, tape his microphone to his face backstage.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, Holden Stamper, makes his way to New York City in the opening act of Elf, Jr. the Musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, played by Holden Stamper, makes his way to New York City in the opening act of “Elf the Musical Jr.”
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, Holden Stamper, exposes a fake santa, Sadie Lawson, during Elf, Jr. the Musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, Holden Stamper, exposes a fake Santa, Sadie Lawson, during “Elf the Musical Jr.”
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
The cast of Elf, Jr. the Musical perform "Sparklejollytwinklejingley." Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
The cast of “Elf the Musical Jr.” perform “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.”
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Hannah Smith, an 8th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, performs the song "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" during the Elf, Jr. musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Hannah Smith, an 8th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, performs the song “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” during “Elf the Musical Jr.”
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, Holden Stamper, lifts Jovie, Anna Stamper, into the air during the closing number of Elf, Jr. the Musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Buddy the Elf, Holden Stamper, lifts Jovie, Anna Story, into the air during the closing number of Elf Jr.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Jackson Sims, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, left, and Trevor Bennett, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, get high fives from teachers and classmates after performing Elf, Jr. the Musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Jackson Sims, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, left, and Trevor Bennett, a 7th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, get high fives from teachers and classmates after performing.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Sam Singleton, an 8th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, washes up after the morning performance of Elf, Jr. the Musical. Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017
Sam Singleton, an 8th-grader at Lincoln County Middle School, washes up after the morning performance.
Photo by Bobby Ellis, Dec. 8, 2017

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