“My three-letter name’s become a four-letter word,” said Meg Nickerson, stage director of Belfast Area High School’s annual fall musical.

A week before “Guys and Dolls” opens in the school’s gymatorium, Nickerson is hearing “Meg!” a lot, and it almost always means one of the show’s 33 students has just realized he or she needs a costume or a prop or some other vital element for the production.

Even things that had been secured are going missing. This day, Nickerson, whose own children finished graduating in 2005, is looking high and low for four “minks” she had laboriously constructed out of an old squirrel coat. As “Guys and Dolls” fans know, these are major props and not ones she has time to make again.

“I think I stopped breathing last week,” Nickerson said.

The musical’s show dates and times are Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m.; and Sundays, Nov. 13 and 20 at 3 p.m. in the gymnasium of BAHS, 98 Waldo Ave.

It is always a challenge for BAHS to pull together its fall musical, a challenge Nickerson and John Cameron, the school’s choral and band director, have been meeting for 10 years now. The first few years were a bit rough, said Nickerson, but they hit a groove and now everyone is already asking what next year’s show will be. This year’s is one of the biggest productions they have helmed, for a reason. They wanted to do something really special to mark their 10th year of collaboration, and the sassy “Guys and Dolls” has lots of parts … and costumes and props.

“I’ve got six Farmettes, four Debutantes and 10 Hot Box Dancers. Some girls are playing gamblers, so they need those costumes too, and all the gamblers need red carnations and hats and, well, it’s that kind of show,” said Nickerson.

Playing the show’s romantic leads are Steven Cook as Nathan Detroit, Clare Olson as Miss Adelaide, Grant Richards as Sky Masterson and Liddy Clapp as Sarah Brown. The cast’s one adult is Dennis Harrington, who plays Sarah’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy. Nickerson said she tells him he can go home after he’s done his bit, but he insists on staying through rehearsals “because he’s having such a ball; he says, no, that’s OK, this is fun!”

Experiencing the fun and accomplishment of putting on a musical theater work is the shared goal of Nickerson and Cameron, veteran stage performers themselves, and part of that means making a place for every student who wants to be involved. That commitment must inform the shows they choose to do, a lesson learned early on when they directed “The Sound of Music.” After casting, there were still a number of girls to be placed and the show only has one ensemble that resembles the traditional chorus.

“We couldn’t have 24 nuns on stage, so we had to cut and it was really hard. So from then on, no cuts, everybody’s in the show,” Nickerson said.

That includes the pit band, which can lead to some interesting configurations. Cameron will use whoever wants to be in the show, “so one year he might get six clarinets and one trumpet and the next, six trumpets and one flute — he never says no,” said Nickerson. “We have the same philosophy, to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to do this.”

This year’s cast includes the school’s two exchange students, one from Italy and one from Thailand. The latter called Nickerson to beg off from a rehearsal so she could take in her first Halloween.

“What am I going to say, no? And this week, we’ll lose a rehearsal because so many of the kids are at the All-State auditions,” Nickerson.

A week out, Nickerson said most of the show’s principals are solid and she knows the rest of the cast will come together.

“It is what it is; we’re not the school that’s going to do ‘Phantom’ or ‘Cats!’ There’s no theater program here, no auditorium, but we do pretty well,” said Nickerson.

Indeed, during the decade she and Cameron have been fielding the fall musical, BAHS’ theatrical tech abilities made a big leap, thanks to an MBNA grant and donation of lighting instruments from Colby College. And because the shows are done on such a shoestring and get such strong support from parents and other community members, the school’s musical consistently makes a profit, money that has gone into theater projects at BAHS and some of the city’s lower-level schools.

The “Guys and Dolls” program will announce the formation of the Footlights Performing Arts Booster Club, of which Nickerson serves as inaugural president. Monies from this club will be used to help with band and chorus trips, purchase equipment and instruments, help fund new theater endeavors in elementary schools, provide music and theater/tech workshops and help students to attend performing arts camps. The newly formed board of directors includes parents and teachers and community members.

In a time when arts funding is being cut at schools around the country, Footlights will ensure a continuing focus on the performing art in the Belfast schools. And Nickerson and Cameron have no plans to abandon the fall musical, although they never thought they would still be directing them 10 years later. Neither has children still in the public school system.

“John’s going to retire eventually, he’s been there forever! We take it from year to year; if other people step up, that’s great too,” Nickerson said.

If only someone would step up this day and say they have found the missing “minks.” Nickerson was beginning to sound desperate: “I do have two ferrets, you know.” Fortunately, the stoles were found in a costume barn a few hours later.

Tickets will be sold at the door, $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to dernest@villagesoup.com.