For Delaney Goodwin, working with the Liberty High School directing tandem of Tony Cimino and Tina Delcher was intimidating at first.
Now it's just challenging, and demanding.
But the hard work has been worth it, according to the Oklahoma Road Middle School eighth-grader, who will be playing Toto in the upcoming production of "The Wizard of Oz."
"It's preparing me for Liberty [High School] and what the expectations will be in that drama club," Delaney said. "It's been very helpful."
Cimino and Delcher have been staging productions at Liberty together for the past three years. This year, they have taken on the task of producing Carroll County's first collaborative middle school musical.
More than 50 middle school students are involved in the musical, which was to debut at Winters Mill High School on Feb. 7. That performance has been cancelled, however, due to the weather and power outages in the area. Tickets for the performance will be honored at either of the two performances scheduled for Feb. 8
"It's been awesome, these kids are fantastic," said Cimino, the drama teacher at Liberty. "They truly are gifted and talented students."
Cimino and Delcher, an English teacher at Liberty, have been assisted in the project by Dave Andrews, a music teacher at East Middle, and Meredith Birmingham, a drama teacher at Winters Mill.
Sponsored by the Carroll County Public Schools Gifted and Talented program, the musical is intended to bridge the gap between middle and high school theater programs, since drama courses are not offered to middle school students.
"It's enriching their arts education at a higher caliber and promoting arts education throughout our school system as well," Cimino said.
Carroll County Public Schools decided to offer the opportunity as a way to expand its gifted and talented programs outside of the classroom, according to Kendra Hart, supervisor of the gifted and talented program.
"We realize that we have a lot of students here in Carroll County that have other gifts besides academics," Hart said.
This first production is a pilot and school officials will evaluate how it worked. But, Hart said, the number of students who auditioned shows the need and desire for such a program in the county.
"This is something that we would love to continue in Carroll County public schools," she said.
Students involved in the production said one of the main reasons they auditioned was for the opportunity to work with a high school drama department.
About 20 high school students are helping to stage the musical, according to Cimino.
"They're almost preparing us for high school," Oklahoma Road eighth-grader Jack Patterson said of the older students' assistance.
He said the production has been a lot of work because of a condensed schedule to rehearse, but it's been nice to work with a collection of students from around the county.
"I've made lots of friends since the start," said the young actor, who is playing the role of the Tin Man.
Students have been rehearsing once a week for three hours since the first week in December, but have been rehearsing up to three times a week recently to make all the necessary final preparations.
"It's definitely a lot of hard work," Delaney said. "A lot of work at home, too, practicing lines and dancing."
Delcher said the students have come to each rehearsal prepared and their results of their efforts away from the stage are apparent.
"They've been phenomenal," she said.
When the curtain rises at the first performance, Emery Hewitt will be playing the lead role of Dorothy.
The eighth-grader from Shiloh Middle School agreed that the best part of having a role in the musical has been the chance to work with students from around the county.
"It's been really fun getting to know kids from other schools," she said.
More than 150 students auditioned for the show, with about 50 making the cut.
Tickets for the Feb. 7 performance at 7 p.m. are $6 each, but anyone who brings a can of food will receive a $1 discount. Cash or checks made payable to Carroll County Public Schools will be accepted.
Tickets will be on sale at Winters Mill High School from Feb. 3 through Feb. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Tickets will also be sold on Feb. 8 from noon until the matinee begins at 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. until the 7 p.m. performance.
Proceeds from the production will be donated to Carroll County Food Sunday.
This story has been updated.