Local youth participate in theater workshop, audition for summer show

Whether outdoors or indoors, local youth made the most of an opportunity to learn all things theater.

At the amphitheater at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia, small groups came together to a create tableau and had others guess what they portrayed.

At a nearby shelter house, they used art supplies to make a set for their scene.

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For the rest of the weeklong workshop, they were indoors at Royal Off-the-Square Theatre in Brownstown working on acting skills, learning about backstage jobs and rehearsing for a show that will be presented later this summer.

The sixth annual Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre children’s theater workshop once again was a hit, drawing a record number of boys and girls ages 6 to 18.

Just a few years ago, there were 25 kids split into two sessions. This year, there were nearly 100 in three sessions.

“We were planning to cap each session at 25 students, but when we saw that we would only be waitlisting a handful of kids, we decided to just make it work and let everyone who registered in,” said Stacey Williams, who led this year’s workshop.

“Moving forward, if we continue to grow, we will need to maybe get creative with additional sessions,” she said. “Our theater can barely contain them all as it is, and that’s a wonderful problem to have.”

In the morning, the workshop was for ages 6 to 9. The afternoon was for ages 10 to 12, and the evening was for ages 13 to 18.

There were nearly 30 kids in each session.

“We try to do it a little bit differently every year since we have so many students who take it more than once,” Williams said. “We had to get creative with having different stations. For example, half the kids would work on sets, while the other half would work on scenes, and then we’d switch. It’s tough to cover all aspects of theater in one week, but we come pretty close.”

Williams said nearly half of the youth were new to theater.

“The older and more experienced kids are good about helping them learn the ropes,” she said. “We talk about everyone being in different places skillwise and try to keep it an encouraging environment for everyone to improve according to their abilities. The great thing about theater is that even if you’ve never done it before, you can catch on quickly. After all, most kids are already skilled at playing pretend.”

For those experienced with theater, she said giving them more leadership opportunities is key.

“Our sessions are also geared toward beginner, intermediate and advanced, so the more difficult concepts and activities are saved for that evening group,” she said.

Williams had a good time working with all of the kids.

“They are so energetic and eager to learn,” she said. “It’s fun to watch them grow in confidence as the week goes along.”

Williams led the workshop a couple of times in the past until John and Julie Rohlfing took the reins the past couple of years.

This year, however, they had some scheduling conflicts and needed someone else to take over.

“Since my oldest two sons wanted to do the workshop anyway, I volunteered to go back to helping with it,” Williams said. “I’m on the board of directors and really wanted to see the program continue to succeed. I’m happy to be able to be back at it this year, especially watching my young sons having a great time in a place I love.”

Karen Haas, who also is on the Jackson County Community Theatre board, was her co-instructor. Megan Keller was the art director and helped the students with backstage work, while Kathy Nelson and Matt Nieman ran the evening workshop for teens, which was new this year.

During the daytime, some of the more experienced teens helped Williams, Haas and Keller. Running improvisational games, helping the kids with lines and assisting the adults were Katie Rohlfing, John Ortman, Erin Nelson, Hayley Harpe and Morgan Henry.

“All of the help has been incredible, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Williams said.

On the last day of the workshop, the kids could audition for a part in a production of Todd Wallinger’s “Wicked Is As Wicked Does.”

“It’s written specifically with kids in mind and has 28 roles for all ages,” Williams said. “It’s a hilarious followup of the happily-ever-after stories in fairy tales like ‘Snow White,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty.’”

This is the fourth year in a row students received that opportunity.

There will be a preview show at 10 a.m. July 7 at Starve Hollow, and the performances are set for 7:30 p.m. July 13, 14, 20 and 21 and 2:30 p.m. July 15 at the theater, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown.

Once again, the workshop was free through an Arts in the Park grant from the Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Arts Commission. A day at Starve Hollow was incorporated to fulfill the requirements of that grant.

Erin Ortman has written the grant for the past three years.

“It has actually been a terrific way to expand our thinking on the workshop,” Williams said. “Plus, that amphitheater is so neat and a fun way to break up the week.”

Drew Kerkhof, 12, said this was his first year attending the workshop. He said he was able to learn about acting, improve his skills and gain friends.

“It was super-fun,” he said. “I have been in one show, so I have more opportunities to have more time on the stage.”

Addison Bumbleburg, 14, went to the workshop for the third time.

“I enjoy meeting new people, learning new skills and doing my favorite thing — acting,” she said.

Through the workshop, she said she has learned how to express different emotions onstage and use her skills backstage.

“I enjoy the improv games and character building,” she said. “They helped me diversify my personality and creativity. Not only can you act, but you can use skills backstage. You can be someone you’re not and let loose.”

Williams said her goals are for the kids to have fun, have great memories of the week and to feel like they have gained knowledge and confidence.

“We hope they would want to be involved in shows at JCCT in the future, whether it’s onstage, backstage or in the audience,” she said.

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What: Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre production of “Wicked Is As Wicked Does”

When and where: Preview show at 10 a.m. July 7 at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area, 4345 S. County Road 275W, Vallonia; full performances at 7:30 p.m. July 13, 14, 20 and 21 and 2:30 p.m. July 15 at Royal Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Tickets: $8; may be purchased online at jcct.org, by calling 812-358-5228 or at the door