May 30, 2002

Young Thespians Need An Audience for Complete Theatrical Experience

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:45 pm

The first week of May was unofficially “Passion for Youth Theater Week” at my house. I don’t know what messages the universe was sending you that week, but everywhere I turned, I was bombarded with cries for help in publicizing youth theater offerings.

Professionally, the week started off fairly normally. I had a story lined up about the youth theater group, Center Stage Theatre Company, and, always striving to keep our coverage in the Sun diverse, a story about an enterprising art gallery owner planned for the second article. Both had been scheduled weeks in advance.

When I checked my email on Tuesday morning, I learned the gallery owner was not able to do the interview later that day. Stomach clench moment. Although I always have back-up story ideas, my compulsion for order and certainty always sends me into momentary panic when I have to switch gears two days before deadline. So I did what any sane person would do and decided to avoid the problem, at least momentarily, and take care of some domestic loose ends.

I called to leave a message for one of our favorite baby-sitters to see if she was available Sunday night and her mom answered the phone. After polite chit-chat, she asked if I had ever written about the Youth Theatre Ensemble in Lafayette. I had not, and she told me they had a show opening in a week. This mom has kids in the performing arts and never fails to emphasize the need for more community participation in the audiences of community theater productions, particularly youth theater shows. As she says, “For the price of a movie ticket, you can see a quality live theater production.” From out of the sky dropped my second story.

Although I mightily try never to have two stories about the same artform in one issue, after talking to one of the founders of YTE, Moraga’s Rich Render, I got swept away, as I always do, in the passionate swell of enthusiasm imparted by adult supporters of youth thespian groups.. It was time for me once again to try to convince one or two thousand readers that they needed to go for an evening of quality theater produced by our youth.

Actually, they needed to go to two evenings of theater because the passion was swelling for Center Stage Theatre Company too, that week. There I spoke with more teens and more adult supporters who believed to the bottom of their hearts that the kids were producing a show as professional and entertaining as any adult company.

Being carried away in the tide of enthusiasm is part of my job as I endeavor to translate the emotions of others into print for all of you to read. But the next day, I was knocked off my feet, caught unaware, by a tsunami. I was wearing my mom cap instead of my reporter’s hat when I called our pediatrician for advice about my son’s stuffy nose. Our doctor was off duty, but his partner, Dr. Samuel Lewis of Lafayette, called me back. Through small talk, we quickly discovered we first met a few years ago at a Belasco Theatre Company production of “Grease.” Belasco is another well-established, professional-quality youth theater program based in Walnut Creek with a bevy of alumni who have gone on to be professional actors and theater artisans, and a wealth of super-supportive adult fans — but none bigger than Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Lewis was extremely frustrated because Belasco’s “Damn Yankees” was opening soon and they couldn’t get any press coverage. He complained that the paper didn’t cover Belasco “because they’re kids.” Not true of the Sun, but I can’t speak for other papers. He desperately wanted to share the talent of those kids with the world. He said that he just ran into a coach of a kids’ baseball team while purchasing cobbler the other day and gave the whole team tickets to see the show. At an upcoming performance, there were going to be free hot dogs for the kids who attended. Dr. Lewis may be a master marketer, but he understands two things very well — the artistic experience for the actors on stage is not complete without an audience with whom to share it AND life is incomplete for anyone who doesn’t have live theater in it.

Diane Kamrin, the producer of the Diablo Light Opera Company’s Stars 2000 youth theater program told me last summer when she was frustrated that I was writing about their production after-the-fact, “I don’t think our community gives the proper attention to youth theater. We have thriving youth theater groups in Contra Costa.”

There are more talented youth companies within 10 minutes drive of Lamorinda than I dare name because I’m sure to forget one. All of them have Lamorinda kids involved. Each of these groups has a Dr. Lewis, or a Rich Render, or a Diane Kamrin tirelessly promoting their talents. They’ve all told me in some form or another that first-timers to their productions are “surprised by how good these kids are.” I have gone through the surprised phase myself and now I’m happy to report that when I go to a youth theater production, I expect professional-level shows because that is what the youth of this area deliver.

Lyle Barrere, the stage manager for YTE, called me back too late to get a quote in that story last month, but he had one important thought he desperately wanted to share with you: “The whole point (of theater) is to have fun, but it’s great to have 100 people in the audience,” he said.

There will be a lot of bad movies coming out this summer. If you’re itching for entertainment, take your $8.75, open up the Arts Calendar of the newspaper, and find a youth theater production to attend. Between all the local groups, one of them is almost certainly doing a production of your favorite play or musical. Go nurture the next generation of theater artists, and you’ll find nourishment for your own soul as well.

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