Thespians in the making: Youth benefits from annual summer workshop


BROWNSTOWN — It’s not a boot camp, but it’s hard work.

From characterization, choreography and singing to stage basics, costumes and technical aspects 92 young thespians ages six to 18 spent this week learning on-stage and behind-the-curtain skills at the Royal Off-the-Square Theatre for Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre’s annual summer workshop.

The week included workshops with professional mime Randy Steel, professional opera singer Donata Cucinotta from Seymour, Tammy Lewis from Tammy’s Dance Studio in Brownstown all teaching various skills that come with theatre.

As the kids spent the week learning new skills or honing familiar talents, by the end of it, they had the chance to audition for the summer musical Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” It will be presented July 19-21 and 26-28 at the theater.

The sessions were led by a team of experienced volunteers with backgrounds in acting and working with kids and teens.

This year’s workshop was led again by Kristina Charlton, who said she was excited to return.

“We are excited to just have a good time,” she said. “It’s about building their confidence and their imagination.”

Volunteer Megan Keller of Brownstown said the skills the kids learn doesn’t just apply to theatre arts.

“We teach them how to speak loud and clear in front of people and stand up for themselves,” she said. “Those are transferable skills into the real world, which really speaks to the goal of what we do here.”

Keller’s daughter and teen volunteer Emily Keller, who also is part of the teen workshop, said her group worked on characterization and preparing monologues for feedback.

“This is the highlight of my summer,” she said. “I’ve learned how to be confident and work with others as well as develop my leadership skills.”

Emily said she fondly remembers a lesson, Shawn Charlton, told the teen group last year that she keeps to heart.

“Talent means nothing if you’re a jerk,” she said.

For Gabbie Hall, this is her third year participating in the workshop, but her first time volunteering.

“The workshops have taught me to be more open because before I was afraid to speak out when I need help,” she said. “Now we are just having fun.”

There also were open auditions for those who didn’t attend the workshop.

Charlton chose to direct “Frozen Jr.” and has the task of filling the 40 members of the cast.

As the students gathered in the theatre to ask questions about the audition, Charlton said the physicals audition isn’t the only thing that matters. Charlton said all week behavior and participation mean everything as well.

Zoey Dillon, 12, and Lila Spray, 10, were among the workshop participants.

Both said they are excited to audition to gain the experience and that could help them earn a spot in “Frozen Jr.”

“We have been learning to build up our characters and improve,” Spray said.

“We picked up some choreography which was kind of difficult, but really fun,” Dillon said. “I also get to meet new people which I like.”

On Wednesday, the kids received a master class lesson in singing and audition preparation from Cucinotta, delivered lines through different emotions and received a taste of make-up and special effects from artist Skyla Fields.

“I hope I get to come back next summer and do this again,” Spray said.

Registration opens for the workshop in the spring, and the link is published via email, social media and online at

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