BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Earlier this month, 14-year-old Allison England stood at the edge of the "Abracadabra" set with her fellow actors, waiting for crew members to finish preparations for a new scene and for the director to yell, "Action!"
Cast on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting show when she was only 10, England, a Mullens native, said she's grown as an actor, as well as a person, during her years on the show.
"You film it and then you watch how much you progress. I've become a whole different person. I've come out of my comfort zone," she said.
England is one of 25 "Abra" kids from the Charleston and Beckley areas cast in the educational show, designed for children ages 4-10.
Dr. Mike Adelman, president of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, created the show and serves as executive producer, lead writer and host. He said the show's mission is "to improve the health care of the citizens of West Virginia, especially the children, through a fun, entertaining way of delivering the message."
"We say that 'Abracadabra' is the only television show — and it truly is — that combines magic, ventriloquism and original music to educate the kids on health."
Adelman said the show's four keys — health, nutrition, exercise and safety — align perfectly with WVSOM's Healthy Children's Initiative, which is committed to helping younger Americans make healthy choices.
"In this state we are either No. 2 or No. 3 (in obesity rates) in the country, depending on what year it is. There have been a lot of different programs out there trying to figure out how to help that problem. None of them were very successful, at least in our books. We decided maybe we should focus on the kids," Adelman said.
The show's main characters include Joey, a well-meaning boy puppet; Mike, owner of the town's magic shop; Salty, an outlandish pirate; Daisy, owner of the town's garden shop; Mr. Oops, another magician who can't seem to get his tricks right; Nastini, a villain who tries to get people to eat unhealthy things like candy; Duk, a talking magical duck; and Professor Science.
Together, the characters and the "Abra" kids reinforce the show's messages while tackling an important topic in every episode such as bullying, bike safety and cyber security.
After performing on the show for a year, Jon Brennan, 13, decided to write an episode that dealt with getting braces after going through the process himself.
"Joey gets braces and he doesn't want anyone to see him because he thinks he is going to get laughed at," said Brennan, a resident of St. Albans. The episode's message is to "not be embarrassed. In the end, your smile is going to look great. It's all worth it."
After receiving good feedback on his script, Brennan's episode was recently filmed for season four, which will air in 2015.
Regarding the local kids on the show, "First of all, they are amazingly talented," Adelman said. "Kids love to watch other kids on TV. They provide really good mentorship for other kids. When they see other kids making healthy snacks and playing healthy games, I think that the kids at home are more likely to follow that than if an adult just tells them that."
Grace Goggins, 10, agreed with Adelman's sentiment. "It's a more fun way to teach kids to eat healthy instead of making them sit at the table until they eat their broccoli."
After completing her first year of filming on the show, Goggins and her mother, Kristi, who live in Charleston, are excited about what the show has been able to teach the young actors.
"I just think this helps them become more confident in themselves .. They meet kids from all different areas. It's just been a positive experience," Kristi Goggins said.
Brennan's mother, Debi, said, "It's been such a good experience for Jon to grow, not just as an actor but as a person. (And) to be able to gain that independence. (It's fun) to watch him interacting with the adults on set and being able to take direction from them and watch him adapt and just roll with it."
Ashley VanBrocklin, 12, has performed on the show for three seasons and said the filming process has taught her patience and to be more outgoing.
"I learned it doesn't just take one try; it takes multiple and multiple tries. The first season, I was the shyest person you'd ever meet. Now, everyone is like my second family."
"Abracadabra" is produced by Mike & Joey Productions with the School of Osteopathic Medicine and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The show's main sponsors include Charleston Area Medical Center, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia, BrickStreet Insurance and West Virginia Mutual insurance.
The 30-minute show will begin airing its third season daily at 8:30 a.m. on WVPBS in September. To learn more, visit www.abracadabra.org or www.wvpublic.org.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com