Local youth participate in theater workshop


Whether they had been onstage before or were new to it, local youth were able to work toward feeling comfortable and confident.

Through the Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre youth theater workshop, more than 90 boys and girls ages 6 to 18 learned what it takes to be successful onstage or behind the scenes.

The weeklong workshop, with sessions lasting two and a half hours, allowed them to become familiar with stage basics, movement, projection, diction, characterization, improvisation and technical aspects.

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"I want them to have fun, but we want to build confidence, as well," said Stacey Williams, the program coordinator and one of the instructors. "Theater is a great tool for that, just knowing that you can get up in front of a group of people and have confidence and express yourself. It’s a good life skill."

Four of the sessions were at Royal Off-the-Square Theatre in Brownstown.

"We start the first day with icebreakers and getting more comfortable with being onstage and a lot of group work and silly stuff to get them to come out of their shell," Williams said.

Each day, the focus was on a different skill, including improvisation, vocal and physical projection, singing and choreography and audition preparation.

On the second day, the morning and afternoon sessions were outdoors at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia, where kids participated in activities on a stage and at a shelter house.

The final day gave youth an opportunity to audition for this summer’s production of "Charlotte’s Web."

"We’re always working toward an audition experience, even the kids who can’t do the show or don’t want to do the show," Williams said.

"We have them go through the audition process just because it’s a great experience because maybe they don’t want to be in this show or they can’t be in this show, but it adds to their experience of being able to do that," she said. "The next one they do want to be in, then they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this. I’ve already done it.’"

This was the seventh year for the summer workshop. Again, it was free thanks to an Arts in the Park grant from the Indiana Arts Commission.

"Erin Ortman is our grant writer. She does an amazing job of securing that for us every year," Williams said. "I don’t know how we would navigate that if we didn’t get it."

Williams said it’s great to see the workshop fill up every year and watch the youth progress throughout the week. This was her third year helping with it.

"It’s a great draw for our theater," she said. "The youth are the only way our theater can grow, so that is why having young people come and be excited about it and having their parents come and participate and see ‘Oh, this is a great outlet,’ it’s a great thing for our community, too."

Williams was assisted by Karen Haas, Megan Keller, Chris Engleking, Paul Keller and Kathy Nelson, instructors; John Rohlfing, instructor and summer show director; Steve Deweese, summer show assistant director; Ortman, grant specialist; Matt Nieman, graphic design; and Katherine Stahl, registration coordinator.

"Some of these people are taking vacations from work to do this," Williams said of the volunteers. "I am a teacher, so I have the summer off, which works nicely for me, but a lot of people are taking time off to help with it. Then we have our teen helpers. Some of them are employed, and they are taking time off to help with it. It definitely is a group effort. It is a great thing."

Deweese said this was his first time volunteering with the workshop. He was impressed with the kids’ growth throughout the week.

"At first, they start out just wanting to have fun, but then as we do more things, they kind of start to take it a little more seriously," he said.

His big focus is making sure youth are involved in the theater community.

"We got kids started out with our kids program years ago that are now aging out of the Young Artists’ Theatre, and they’ll be doing some of our big plays. We had one last year in the musical," he said. "It’s just fun to watch them take an interest and carry on."

Keller helped with the workshop for the second time.

"I enjoy teaching the younger kids because I love to see how they are just really willing to be fearlessly creative and do what we ask them to do, whether it be onstage or in groups or individual work, whether it’s visual arts, technical aspects or acting," she said.

Keller said it’s great to see the workshop have a high retention rate.

"They kind of have expectations already of what’s going to happen, and they are ready to take on more of a leadership role for some of the shier kids and get more enthused about it," she said. "I think this group of kids really collaborates well together. That’s not always an easy thing to do in the classroom or in life."

Brynn Burton and Sullivan Dick were among the youth in the afternoon session.

This was Burton’s third year at the workshop.

"Most of the people here come back and you know people, and then you try out for a play and you get better every year," the Brownstown Central Middle School seventh grader said. "It helps me be a better public speaker for school stuff."

Dick, a fourth grader at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, was new to the workshop.

"I did the Christmas play ‘Fruitcakes,’ and I thought that was really fun, so I thought, ‘Well, I might sign up for this,’" he said. "Then I heard auditions were at the end of it, so then I thought I could get better and I could audition. I would already have a little bit of skills on it."

Area theaters don’t offer a youth workshop, so Burton and Dick are glad there’s one close to home.

"If you have a speech impediment or something, it can help show what you’re good at, and you can do backstage if you’re not comfortable being onstage," Burton said.

"If they think they need to get better at speaking, projecting, singing and all of the other stuff, they could come here and then they could learn how to do that," Dick said.

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What: Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre’s production of “Charlotte’s Web”

When: 7:30 p.m. July 12, 13, 19 and 20 and 2:30 p.m. July 14

Where: Royal Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Cost: $8

Information: Call 812-358-5228 or visit jcct.org