Houston senior theatre major Sarah Wisterman practices in the SFA School of Theatre's scenic workshop to take on the challenging role of Charlotte in the SFA School of Theatre's production of "Charlotte's Web."

NACOGDOCHES, TEXAS - A "timeless tale about love, loss, friendship and courage" will captivate audiences of all ages when the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre presents "Charlotte's Web" during its 2013 Summer Repertory season.

"Charlotte's Web," written by E.B. White and adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette," opens Wednesday, July 3, with performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day in W.M. Turner Auditorium in the Griffith Fine Arts Building on the SFA campus.

When Laura Rikard, SFA assistant professor of acting and directing, was asked if she would like to direct "Charlotte's Web" for the Summer Rep season, she said she was "immediately excited, because it was one of my favorite stories as a child."

"My mother used to read the book to me out loud, and I would watch the movie any time it came on television," Rikard said. "I have always found the story touching and deeply moving."

The story is about a lonely little pig named Wilbur who becomes a local sensation on Zuckerman's farm thanks to the efforts of his new best friend, a kind and generous spider named Charlotte, who teaches everyone about the power of belief and the meaning of true friendship.

"This is a great play to bring the entire family to," Rikard said. "Children of all ages - from 5 to 100 - will enjoy this timeless tale about love, loss, friendship and courage. I think it explains many realities of life in a beautiful, entertaining and fun way. I think it can lead to bonding family discussions."

But one does not need to have children to enjoy this play, she said, adding there is a lot in the production for adults as well.

"I believe this would be a great date night, a fun event for a group of girlfriends, and an evening of fun, entertaining theatre for all," she said.

While the audience will see exceptional acting and a finely tuned production on stage, there were some challenges behind the scenes leading up to the upcoming performances, Rikard said.

"The biggest challenge has been teaching all of the actors the style in which the show has to be performed," she said. "Children's theatre has a unique style that is rooted in presentational theatre but must also retain a connection to sincerity and truthfulness that is found in realistic acting. There are many theatre techniques the actors must have: improvisation, clowning, good physical stamina and a truthful connection to the imaginary circumstances of the play. This can be a lot for a student actor to take on, and our cast is doing a great job. The students are eager and hungry to learn, are quick to apply direction and are excited to tell the story. They have risen to the level of true professionals."

The audience will be encouraged to sing along with the performers and even speak to the characters, virtually becoming part of the production and experiencing live theatre in a unique way. For that reason, no two performances will be exactly alike.

"The show encourages audience participation, so the actors can never really rehearse exactly what the show will be," Rikard said, "because there is no way of knowing how an audience is going to respond. The actors have to be on their toes and ready for anything. They also have the challenge of keeping the children completely engaged for an hour and half, and that takes a lot of energy and focus."

Rikard said she hopes young audiences will learn valuable lessons by watching "Charlotte's Web" and older audiences will be reminded of the hopeful optimism of their youth.

"I hope that they are reminded of the beauty and importance of friendship," she said, "and I hope they have a good time and want to return to see more productions here at the SFA School of Theatre."

"Charlotte's Web" will be presented at 10 a.m. July 3 and 9; at 2 p.m. July 3, 7, 8 and 13; and at 6:30 p.m. July 6 and 13. Tickets are $7.50.

Nacogdoches Walmart has underwritten a special "pay-what-you-can" performance of "Charlotte's Web" at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 7.

"In the past, some families, especially those with several children, have asked us if there's a more affordable way to see our summer children's show," said Scott Shattuck, director of the School of Theatre. "This year, Walmart is making it possible for us to offer one performance of 'Charlotte's Web' when each family can set their own ticket price based on their ability to pay. We're very grateful to have such a generous community partner in our local Walmart store, and we hope lots of kids can take advantage of this opportunity."

A sign-language interpreted performance for the hearing impaired will be presented at 6:30 p.m. July 13, which is the closing night of "Charlotte's Web."

Group discounts are available for each of the performances. Call the SFA Fine Arts Box Office at (936) 468- 6407 or (888) 240-ARTS for more information, or visit boxoffice.sfasu.edu.

All performances are in W.M. Turner Auditorium, located in Griffith Fine Arts Building on the SFA campus.