If you follow this blog at all, you know that I am most passionate about my work with young actors. A year ago, I had the good fortune to be hired to work with the Civic Arts Stage Company; first as the music director, and eventually as the director of the program. Civic Arts is a partnership between the City of Pleasanton, California, and Bay Area Children’s Theatre. Roles are open to students between the ages of 8-18. We produce two musicals and one play each season.
We just kicked off our second season of the Pleasanton/BACT partnership with a two-week rehearsal intensive for our first production of the year, Doctor Dolittle, Jr. It was far and away the most enjoyable, inspiring two weeks of my summer. As I ponder what it is that makes Civic Arts so great for students and staff alike, I keep coming back to the idea of a Company.
There are many different ways of producing theatre. Most companies tend to hire show by show. That is, hiring new actors and directors for each show they produce within a season. There may be some carryover. Many companies have regular or resident designers that they like to use for costumes, props, and lights. And once they’ve found a director they like to work with, they may try to bring that person back for one show each season. By and large, though, each show brings in a new group of artists.
Another option is to have a resident company of artists. The actors are hired to be a part of the company’s entire season and play different roles in each show. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival follows this model. Other professional theaters are connected to training programs where up-and-coming actors have the opportunity to play a variety of small roles in all of the company’s shows – American Repertory Theatre (Harvard), Trinity Rep (Brown), Asolo Repertory Theatre (FSU). I like to think of the Civic Arts Stage Company as a smaller version of these renowned training grounds.
At this point, we are seeing many of the same students audition for each show we produce. As the students return, they are honing their skills, having opportunities to perform in different sorts of roles, and learning the theatrical repertoire. They are also forming strong bonds through this work. During our two-week intensive we not only rehearsed the show, but also offered workshops in auditioning, improv, monologues, dance, and physicality. The actors also wrote and shared short speeches on issues of intolerance that are close to their hearts. All of these exercises served to bring the company members closer together. They were already an extraordinarily supportive and kind ground of young actors. By the end of two weeks, as one student described it, they were family. All of this serves to make them more comfortable and trusting of each other on stage. They will be more likely to take onstage risks because they know that their colleagues will not let them fall. From the director’s perspective, all this only serves to make my job even more fruitful. These brave young actors are open to anything I toss at them, and soak up every new bit of information the adult staff shares. They embrace new company members with open arms. One actress who is new to both our company and theatre in general, commented that she had no idea theatre would be so much fun.
I am looking forward to continuing to grow with the Civic Arts Stage Company throughout our season. As our actors return and improve, I also find myself growing as a director. How else will I keep up with them?