Sitting in a circle on the Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre stage, instructor Stacey Williams and 16 students ages 11 to 13 worked on improvisation.
The first exercise involved trying to count to 17, with each person saying one number at a time. If more than one person yelled out the same number at once, the group started over. It took several tries, and everyone was relieved when they finished it.
Then, they put together a couple of stories with each person saying one line at a time. That didn’t take as much time, and the kids came up with interesting stories.
In another exercise, they were given a slip of paper with a character they had to portray at a bus stop. With two people on stage at a time, others had to try and guess whom they portrayed.
They ended the day by getting a chance to be a director. Each student brought a family photo with multiple people in it, and they had to use other students to re-create the photo, telling them where to stand and what to do.
These exercises were part of Jackson County Community Theatre’s children’s drama workshop and will help the kids as they rehearse the next two weeks for two “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids” shows and try out for other productions in the future.
“Improvement is a big deal because seeing some of these kids who were little mice on the first day come up and do this bus stop improv and do a great job of it I thought was hilarious,” Williams said. “I think they are getting more comfortable with each other, too. Definitely I enjoy watching the improvement and the growth in the kids.”
This was the third year for the workshop, which also had a session for 8- to 10-year-olds and drew nearly 40 kids overall. It was free thanks to a grant from the Seymour chapter of Tri Kappa sorority.
The workshop ended with a short skit the past few years. But this year, after hearing feedback from parents, they decided to offer the kids a chance to participate in a show.
Throughout the week, Williams incorporated songs and dance numbers from the show. She also helped producer Darin Richart with casting. Cruella de Vil will be played by a professional actress, but the remaining parts will be played by workshop participants.
“They are going to get that experience of working with somebody professional and being able to elevate themselves to that level,” Williams said.
During the workshop, Williams said, one of her goals was to help the kids feel more comfortable on stage, no matter their level of experience. The improvisational activities helped with that.
She also taught them the basics of acting, including phrases like downstage, upstage, stage right and stage left; where to stand on stage; never turning your back to the audience; maintaining the “fourth wall,” which is an imaginary wall between the actors and audience; and vocal and facial projection.
Clare Hauersperger, 12, of Hayden said this was her second time attending the workshop, and she learned even more this year.
“I learned more about volume, and I learned more about how to keep your voice loud enough for everybody to hear you,” she said. “That was nice to know.”
Maddie Gibson, 10, of Vallonia also liked learning about the importance of volume and projection.
“It’s so people in the back can hear you and so they have the same feel as the people in the very front do,” she said.
Grant Smith, 10, of Seymour said he also attended an acting workshop in Columbus.
“Up in Columbus, we just had one week to prepare for a small play,” he said. “This Brownstown one is a week of helping you get good form to get a good part, so I’ve had more learning about what I’m supposed to do.”
Micah Ballard, 12, of Brownstown said he initially was hesitant about going to the workshop. But after participating in improv and other activities, he was happy he chose to attend.
“When I’m in the real world, I’m just everywhere. But when I do acting, I’m really shy because it’s in front of a lot of other people,” he said. “I like this (workshop) because they actually give you a chance to be in a play. I wasn’t going to be in the play. But now, I really want to be in the play.”
Williams said she remembers being the kids’ age when she fell in love with acting. The Jasper native said a workshop she attended when she was 8 included a “Peter Rabbit” show.
“I wore some bunny ears, and there were a couple of adults in the show that I thought were super cool. So I’ve just liked being in plays ever since then,” she said.
Williams earned a degree in theater education from Indiana University. While living in Chicago with her husband for nine years, Williams taught high school theater and English.
The couple moved to Seymour six years ago, and she has been teaching writing classes for Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus and Seymour. Last summer, she decided she wanted to get back into acting and landed a role in JCCT’s production of “The Dixie Swim Club.”
That led to a board member asking Williams if she would like to lead the children’s drama workshop, and she said she was glad to have another chance to teach theater.
“I’ve really been enjoying it,” she said. “These guys are a ball. They are hilarious. They make me laugh every day. That’s a great feeling to do a job that makes you laugh and that you enjoy.” Building love of theater Williams said the workshop was a great opportunity for the kids.
“Their philosophy behind doing it is if you get them started young, you build lifelong theater lovers, lifelong theater supporters, people who, even if they are not going to be on the stage, they are going to help backstage, they are going to come to the shows, they are going to appreciate it a little bit more,” she said.
The kids also learned a lot of life skills, she added.
“Just being in front of people and being comfortable in front of people, that’s huge,” Williams said. “Then the concept of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, being an empathetic person is a big deal. And then being a team player, working together, that sort of thing, those are all important. … Hopefully, they take something away from this that they can carry on even if they are just a little bit more confident with themselves.”
The students expect the experience to help them if they choose to continue with theater.
“It’s teaching me to be more flexible with parts, and it has taught me to give other kids more of a chance to be on stage and help them out,” Clare said. “It’s definitely going to help me be more into theater. It’s truly going to help me.”
Maddie said she has participated in plays at school since she was in first grade, and she plans to continue participating in them.
“My parents say I’m born for the stage,” she said. “I have the feel for everything, and I’ve just learned some stuff as I’ve been growing older. I think it’s going to push me to do some other stuff, like try out for other plays and theater acts.”
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What: “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids”
When: 7:30 p.m. June 26 and 27
Where: Royal-Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown
Who: Kids who recently participated in a weeklong drama workshop at the Jackson County Community Theatre
Tickets: $8; on sale at Family Drug in Brownstown and Bevers Family Pharmacy in Seymour; leftovers will be on sale at the door
Information: 812-358-5228, jcct.org