This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

One of the first songs in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” is about the heroine’s safe space — her own little corner of the world, away from her nagging stepfamily and endless list of chores.

“In my own little corner, in my own little chair/ I can be whatever I want to be,” Cinderella sings.

In the theatre at South Caldwell High School, elementary, middle and high school students are rehearsing for a production of the classic show.

For them, this is a safe corner, too.

“I have students who say that this is their safe haven,” said Beth Woodard, the theatre teacher at South. “It’s the only place they feel connected to other students, the only place they feel accepted.”

Since January, Woodard has overseen the cacophony of 42 students putting a production together – a process that comes with four-day-a-week rehearsals.

Outside the dark theater, a few locker-coated hallways away, South’s ninth- through 12th-graders mill around in the parking lot. They play with their cellphones, knock shoulders with their friends, and leap into cars. It is, of course, boisterously loud.

Back inside, the “Cinderella” cast and crew is deep into preparations for opening day.

Monday marked the first tech rehearsal, so crewmembers tested microphones, and the brassy sounds of the South Caldwell band drifted through the auditorium.

The students, in roles big or small, took care to personalize roles that have been played everywhere from the small screen to the Broadway stage. At times, that was a little intimidating — such as for Shelby Mays, a South Caldwell student playing Joy the stepsister.

“I saw a picture on Facebook of the girl who’s playing Joy on Broadway – it’s nerve-wracking,” she said.

Granite Falls Middle student Claire Story has only one line, but she didn’t take it lightly.

“I took it very seriously,” Story said. “Because one day, maybe I could do plays on Broadway and stuff.”

In a community struggle to find its place in the science-saturated future, with Google grants funding every tech-focused opportunity imaginable, it’s easy to push kids toward STEM and STEM alone.

It’s easy to forget about the peace and the place kids can find here, in a high school theater with hand-painted sets.

“The medical field and science and all this stuff we do – it’s all important,” Woodard said. “But art, music, drama, that’s what separates us. That’s what keeps us alive.”

“Cinderella” will run May 2, 3, 4 and 6 at 7 p.m., and May 5 at 2 p.m., in the South Caldwell High School theater. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the door or in advance. For tickets, email Woodard at