The song of teamwork in BOTS!

Success can be achieved by coming together is the ultimate message behind The San Juan Community Theatre’s Family Theatre’s production BOTS!, a new children’s musical. The show opens on Nov. 17 and runs through Nov. 20.

“I actually chose BOTS! back in 2019 when we were still working on I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” director Penelopy Haskew said. “Butterfly was about children in the Holocaust, so pretty heavy stuff.”

The production was incredibly beautiful and she loved every minute of working on it. “It seemed like maybe something a little lighter would be nice in case there were new families who wanted to try out but weren’t up for such a challenging show. BOTS! caught my attention because the music is really upbeat and there are some almost punk rock moments that I knew would be fun for the kids,” she said.

The storyline revolves around the BOTS Robotics Competition. Teams and their (singing and dancing) robots are all vying for the top prize. In between the coding, building, and fierce competition, two members from rival teams befriend one another, and their collaborative spirit threatens to sabotage their teams’ chances of winning.

When asked if teamwork is a lesson youth of today need to work on, Haskew said, “Honestly I don’t think that the kids have changed all that much. I think they have all really missed having opportunities to be together in mixed age groups and missed being able to express themselves through playing characters and music and dance.”

In fact, after COVID and spending so much time apart, Haskew said the energy was higher across the board this year. There was a heightened exuberance and enthusiasm, rather than competitiveness or one-upmanship. “I think they innately understand that when one group does well they all look good and they all want each other to succeed,” Haskew said.

With a crew as big as the BOTS! production, teamwork is critical. There are 38 kids and 14 adults in the cast and another 13 or so adults and teens on the tech crew.

“It isn’t the largest show we’ve done but considering I was intending to keep it small, yeah, it’s pretty big! This year the big challenge has been re-establishing the program with a lot of new families involved and some key collaborators not returning after the two-year hiatus in live shows,” Haskew said. “It has been invigorating and joyful to see the magic of theatre taking hold on the kids and the parents.”

The young actors and crew are having a good time and they’ve been super supportive and encouraging of each other, Haskew added. “Maybe maybe they are already living the ideal of the show’s theme about teamwork.”

In any case, there is no chance of pulling off a show like this without a good team.

“I’ve got my longtime helpers Mary Hurley (eight years) and Callie McKay (10 years) helping me backstage and Lisa Duke helping me with choreography as she has for every in-person show we’ve had since 2010,” Haskew said noting that an abundance of parents helping out with costumes, set building and videography have aided the large team. Moms and dads have even organized the dinners for the half-hour buffet for 65 people each night before tech and dress rehearsals.

“Recently, I was also super proud of some of my teens on the tech crew. My colleague at the theatre suddenly needed me to cover a show that conflicted with a full cast rehearsal but before I canceled it I asked if anyone felt up to running the rehearsals in my place so the kids wouldn’t miss out on the practice,” Haskew said. Within minutes of asking, two of her crew, stage manager Lucie Kusner and high school intern Sidney Herda, both sent a text saying they’d round up some other more experienced high school kids and run the rehearsals. With Mary on hand keeping other kids busy helping with props, the rehearsal continued without her. “I mean, these are the moments that just make it so, so worth doing,” Haskew said.

Of all the songs in the musical, there is a short song toward the end of the show that always leaves Haskew emotional.

“A bunch of characters realizes they have the power to change some other kids’ lives. When they sing it, even without all the costumes and lights, it always gets me and I have to act like I’m not crying. Every time,” she said.

Haskew hopes the audience will appreciate the effort the kids and adults have put into every minute of the show.

“If we’re successful of course, the audience won’t notice because they will be too engrossed in the story and the songs to give it a thought. But that is really the meat of family theatre to me,” Haskew offered. “Everyone starts out knowing nothing about this whole world and by the end of the process they know all the words and dance moves and relationships and technical elements – lights, sound, flying scenery, fog.”

Haskew noted that part of the beauty of theatre is watching the cast work through awkward poses or embarrassing or funny moments, even on rough days when they thought they’d never remember a line. Then, suddenly, they do. “They all do and they all do it together and it’s just the best.”

BOTS! will play from Nov. 17 through Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets for adults are $18, students are $10, or student rush at the door, $5. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit the San Juan Community Theatre’s website at

Contributed photo by Annie Ryan
Kaylee Buchanan (front) leads the actors through one of their dances.

Contributed photo by Annie Ryan Kaylee Buchanan (front) leads the actors through one of their dances.

Contributed photo by Annie Ryan
Rehearsing one of the group dances.

Contributed photo by Annie Ryan Rehearsing one of the group dances.