Youth theater workshop changes to one-day event outdoors



The Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre youth workshop may have looked different this year, but it didn’t take away from the kids learning all they need to about theater.

In the past seven years of the summer workshop, four days were spent inside Royal Off-the Square Theatre in Brownstown, and the other day was outside at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia.

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Since Jackson County Community Theatre annually receives an Arts in the Park grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, it’s required to have at least one of the sessions at a state park.

This year, though, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers changed the format to a six-hour session on one day for each of the three age groups, all at Starve Hollow.

Upon arriving, parents turned in a signed release form, and kids received a health screening from volunteer staff members wearing face masks.

Stacey Williams, the program coordinator and one of the instructors, said 30 kids had signed up for each session, but a few didn’t attend for various reasons. The workshop is for ages 6 to 18.

“This year, we were just thinking outside the box, ‘How can we still do our workshop and maintain these rules and these recommendations?’” she said. “We have this great facility at our disposal, and it meets the grant requirements, so I asked Starve Hollow if they would be OK with us being out here for three days instead of one day, and they were all about it: ‘Sure. Please use our facilities. They are open.’”

During each session, the kids were divided into three groups of no more than 10 and rotated every 30 minutes to a different station with 15 minutes between each one. Two were at shelter houses, and one was at the stage near the nature center.

The areas of focus remained the same: Voice, movement and tech in the morning and improv, character and direction in the afternoon.

“Based on the age ranges, we did different activities that were allowed for their abilities,” Williams said.

She’s used to seeing the kids make progress from the beginning of the week to the end, and she still saw improvement with the sessions just being one day.

“Even with just a half-hour session, to see them not be so sure at the beginning of the 30 minutes and then by the end of it really coming out and understanding the concept, that’s fun,” Williams said.

In past years, the kids built up to an audition for a production later in the summer. This year, though, that was canceled because of the pandemic.

They still read scripts and practiced skills that will help them in future auditions.

“What you saw me doing was prepping auditions, so ‘What would you expect if you came to do an audition at the theater? Here’s what it would look like,’” Williams said. “It’s so much about confidence building and feeling comfortable with yourself and that kind of stuff.”

Katelynn Woods, 11, and one of Williams’ sons, Kameron, 9, both said they liked script reading the most. Stacey picked scripts that fit each age group.

“It was way different than a regular script,” Kameron said. “I got to act silly and stuff like that. Even when you’re doing a real play, you still have to be silly and do whatever they tell you to do.”

Katelynn and Kameron also liked the other theater activities and games.

“I think it’s just fun, all of the activities,” Katelynn said. “(The volunteer staff members) are really nice. I love this camp. It’s my favorite. Every year for my birthday, I always come here.”

Attending the workshop encourages both kids to try out for plays, whether it’s at the theater, school or church.

“If I’m acting at church and I need to speak louder, I know how to do that,” Katelynn said.

“It helps me think about what a character would do more and what a character would sound like,” Kameron said.

Katie Rohlfing helped plan most of the activities for the workshop. Her father, John, led the final day.

Katie began attending the workshop when she was a freshman at Brownstown Central High School, and she’s now starting her second year at the University of Indianapolis, where she’s studying theater education.

Helping plan the workshop was right up her alley.

“This workshop is the reason I am doing what I’m doing,” Katie said of her postsecondary studies. “I wanted to be an elementary school teacher since I was in first grade, and then junior year after doing this a couple years, something changed inside of me where I’m like, ‘I love teaching this. This is what I love to do. It makes me so happy, and I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”

Seeing the kids grow in their skills, smile and be proud of themselves for learning something from her make it worthwhile for Katie.

“I was the shy kid in the back who never raised her hand, and then I went to theater and got into all of that, and now, it’s hard to get me to shut up,” she said, smiling.

“Not every kid is going to end up going into professional acting, but being able to do shows, growing creativity is a big thing,” she said. “Creativity is a major thing all people need in their life, and being able to communicate and express your ideas and speak to a crowd, it’s just something everybody needs.”

For Stacey, the main goal of the workshop is for kids to have fun so they will want to come back each year or become involved in the theater.

“Having fun is the No. 1 thing, and then after that, all of the skills you learn from theater are life skills,” she said. “Being able to work together as a team, being able to feel comfortable in front of a group, a lot of it is that creativity and imagination.”

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