By Christina Whiting
When you get a group of creative youth together to form their own production, anything can happen.
Homer’s youth will soon have a unique opportunity to showcase their talent for an audience – whether they are writing music, applying makeup, working the lighting, choreographing dance, building sets or developing characters.
One of 11-year-old Brita Restad’s favorite parts of performing with the Homer Council on the Arts’ Youth Theatre program is audience reaction.
“I like seeing people react to my acting,” she said. “Like feeling sad when I’m sad or laughing when it’s funny.” Restad performed in past productions of “Andy” and “Honk.” She said she liked working with other kids and learned she is not as shy as she thought she was.
HCOA’s Youth/Teen Theatre is an 11-week program beginning Jan. 7. It will provide an opportunity for youth ages eight to 18 to work together to create and perform a dramatic production. Not only will students star in the production, they will also create the final performance piece; a classical form of theater known as melodrama. Mary Langham will direct this year’s production and is eager to participate in the creative process with the younger artists.
Langham was involved in similar musical programs as a young person through public schools.
“My mother loved theater and took me to my first tryout when I was 5 years old,” she said. “It was for Peter Pan with a downtown Cleveland company. I didn’t get a part, but it was impressive exposure.”
This year, Langham will again count on the creative talents of kids in the program to do it all. And by all, Langham means everything from pre-production, which includes writing the piece, putting lyrics to music and creating choreography, to performing, acting, singing, dancing and teaching.
“This program is another opportunity for kids to stretch themselves creatively,” she explained. “Melodrama lends itself to controversy, politics and social commentary. This could be a platform for youth to portray what’s on their minds and share it with the community.”
Langham’s goals are for students to focus on the process, while keeping it light-hearted and allowing for the students to play and collaborate with one another.
HCOA Executive Director Gail Edgerly has seen firsthand how the program builds self-confidence and teamwork in youth.
“These kids find their voice, develop a sense of value as a team player, find acceptance and inclusion by their peers and discover and explore new ways to experience themselves,” Edgerly said. “The program provides a safe, non-competitive environment where students can discover and develop skills.” Edgerly hopes the program will inspire students to pursue theater at Pier One and give them courage to try other forms of artistic expression.
“The Youth Theatre program offers an opportunity for each student to have a positive experience with others, to feel good about themselves, to feel supported and support others, while participating in an inclusive, teamwork environment that can provide a sense of belonging,” she said.
This is the third year for the Youth Theatre program. In 2012, Brenda Dolma directed the student production of Andy. Some 26 youth and 10 adult mentors participated in the creation of that production. In 2013, students created and showcased Honk, directed by Mary Langham, Jessica Schallock and Maura Gibson.
Honk featured music by a live band. Falcom Greear, 14, also participated in Andy and Honk, and is excited to go through the program again.
“I love the songs I learned and all the new people I could be friends with,” he said. “The directors are amazing and there is so much creative energy. I love being able to get out of the person I am and let myself go wild.”
For Greear, the most challenging part of the program was memorizing all the lines. This challenge was trumped, however, by everything else he learned. “I learned not to be nervous and how to get into character,” he said. “I also learned to raise my voice in music, to open my mouth wide and sing proudly.”
For Liam James, 10, participating in the theater program and performing in Andy and Honk showed him he can do things he didn’t know he could do. “I learned that when I put music and dancing together, I can move and do the unexpected,” he said.
Jessica Anne Williams will be working with kids on the musical component of the production.
“We encourage the kids to take what they know and lead with that,” she said. “One college created Harry Potter the Musical. Who knows what our kids will come up with?”
The Youth/Teen Musical Theatre program is offered in collaboration with Pier One Theatre and is made possible with major support from The Homer Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation through the Arts in Education Fund administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Classes begin Jan. 7 at Homer Council on the Arts, and run Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. for 11 weeks. The cost is $150 per student, or $130 for HCOA member families. Registration is available online at homerart.org, or in person at HCOA, 355 W. Pioneer Avenue during office hours, Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Performances are tentatively scheduled for March 21 and 22. For more information, call 235-4288 or visit homerart.org.
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