Mountain Theatre’s Children’s Workshops set young actors on the right track
It’s a bit different from putting on a play, although Jamie Stambaugh would like to see more of that opportunity for kids in town. She has a running start by initiating the Summer Theatre Workshops for Children via the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre at the Mallardi Cabaret.
The workshops were designed with a diverse range of ideas to open up young and first-time actors to theatre participation, enhancing not only performance skills but a variety of life skills like communication, exposure to literature and developing posture and grace in movement.
“The thing is,” Jamie said, “when you’re putting on a play, it’s memorizing a lot of lines and standing in the right spot on stage. I wanted to do a more in-depth study of the craft of theatre performance to a degree that you simply don’t have the time for when the focus is put on getting a play production ready. So when we remove the level of performance-ready production, it allowed us to just spend this time as artists studying a craft.” The three-week workshop ends this week.
Jamie compared the process to taking an art class and learning different brush strokes to create a picture. “What I was trying to do for them in this workshop was give them different tools for communicating story onstage.”
Jamie has been onstage most of her life and in numerous Mountain Theatre productions, and earned her BFA in musical theatre with an acting emphasis from the University of Northern Colorado and her MA in secondary English education from the University of Oklahoma. She’s well versed in the art of theatre performance.
Jamie’s workshops were divided into two age groups: seven to 11 year olds and 12 to 18 year olds. “I do similar instruction in each class, and each class had varying degrees of difficulty and depth appropriate to their ages. The fundamentals are the same in both classes. We do scene study, where they can practice short scenes. You develop things like listening. Listening is huge,” Jamie explained.
“The number one question people ask is how you memorize your lines. I tell them it’s listening. If you’re really listening to what your scene partner is telling you it always makes sense but it takes removing yourself from that fly on the wall watching yourself and to be fully present in the scene, actively listening to the people onstage with you,” Jamie said.
“Once you’re that engaged in the story, the lines are much easier. Scene study also includes partner work, which means you learn things like playing for victory, your character is always trying to accomplish something,” Jamie said. “So you learn intention and focus and urgency.”
The young actors also honed their skills in monologue study, stage presence, vocal projection and audition techniques. “This final week we’re going to touch on musical theatre performance,” Jamie said. “The kids are learning a song. After listening to their voices I brought in a couple of choices and they picked the one they were most interested in. The younger kids are doing things like The Secret Garden or Big River (from Huck Finn), while the big kids are doing everything from Rock of Ages all the way to South Pacific.”
The public is invited to the Mallardi Cabaret to witness Crested Butte’s young actors on Friday, July 19, at 1 p.m. in a sort of showcase. “It’s not a polished performance, it’s more like come in and witness a workshop to see the process of what we’ve been doing. Most excitingly, I have 12 year olds working with 18 year olds. The theatre really provides this rare gem of an opportunity for kids of all ages to work collaboratively on a single project. It’s always awkward the first few days but by the end of it, without fail, there’s a sense of family and respect and enjoyment of each other that transcends age difference. It’s pretty amazing to be a first-hand witness to that,” she said.
Both Jamie and Mountain Theatre managing artistic director Harry Woods hope there’s more interest in continuing the Children’s Theatre Workshops in the near future. “We’ll see if there’s enough interest for another round. The idea of doing more of them is exciting for both us,” Jamie said. “It’s been fun, the kids are amazing, and I’ve enjoyed it awful lot.” Apparently, the kids think so too.
For more information on how you can get your child enrolled in the Children’s Theatre Workshop call the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre at (970) 349-0366 or go to cbmountaintheatre.org.