The wealth of performance talent in the local area rests on a solid foundation of educational and training programs aimed at aspiring members of the theater community. OnStage recently talked with two of the many local theater professionals who work with and mentor elementary and high school students who show promise in theater work.
Blake Coheley, chairman of dance and musical theater at NOCCA|Riverfront, says interest in New Orleans Center for Creative Arts has grown in recent years as the school has drawn students from around the state. One result of the expansion has been rising quality.
“Because we’re garnering more students from a wider area, the talent level has increased,” he says. “That has certainly put the pressure on the quality of our instruction, so we’ve had to raise the bar, which is a good place to be.”
As competition to enter NOCCA stiffens, the school’s ability to help launch kids toward successful careers also improves. “Excellence breeds excellence,” Coheley says. “When kids are surrounded by excellence they tend to step up.”
Anthony Bean has worked with hundreds of youngsters in the summer camps of Anthony Bean Community Theater and in many of his regular-season productions. He agrees that kids often do far more than merely rise to the occasion. Some teenagers he has worked with are so passionate and dedicated that they put dating and other typical teenage activities on hold while they work to improve their skills.
“Something inside of that person just makes them want to do this, and when they want it there’s no stopping them,” he says.
Bean says he enjoys the surprises he sometimes gets during students’ auditions for his program. Even if the audition is not great, he says, “the kid may have charisma, something charming, something pleasant to look at. I do double-takes many times. A good 10 percent of the kids probably have that something that says they can go far.”
OnStage talked with four students from the NOCCA and Anthony Bean programs who have distinguished themselves through their performances in the past year. The following are their brief profiles.
School: eighth grade at St. Augustine High School (New Orleans)
Training: Anthony Bean Community Theater
I started performing when I was about 6. Later, when my mom was trying to find summer camp for me, she saw the Anthony Bean billboard. We applied and I got in. I was already a rapper and had theater presence from doing rapping at talent shows and different places. I like singing, dancing and acting, but acting is my favorite. I like to display all the emotions.
Next year I’m going to stick with Anthony Bean and I hope to go to NOCCA. Eventually, I would love to act, especially in film. I was in (an episode of television series) “K-Ville” with Anthony Anderson and I’d like to do more of that.
School: senior at Dutchtown High School (Baton Rouge) and NOCCA
My life pretty much revolves around NOCCA. I commute to New Orleans every day, and I’m auditioning for college right now. One day after college, I hope to move to New York and be on Broadway.
If I had my pick of roles, I’d probably want to play Penny in “Hairspray.” I love that musical and I connect with that character because she really comes out of her shell at the end, and I love that. When I first came to NOCCA I was so scared and intimidated by everybody, I was not talkative and didn’t have a lot of friends. But now I love everybody there and feel like I really belong.
School: senior Grace King High School (Metairie) and NOCCA
In high school I’ve become a better dancer and actor, but my roots are in singing. In our spring production “Swing,” I sing in the opening number, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.”
I just finished college auditions to go for a BFA in music theater. I’ve got five choices so far.
Eventually, I want to work in theater, hopefully in New York. I’d be thrilled to get a national tour out of college and have it as a steppingstone to going to work in the city.
School: junior at Academy of the Sacred Heart (New Orleans)
Training: Anthony Bean Community Theater
I was interested in acting, but Katrina stopped me for a bit. The summer afterward I went to summer camp at Anthony Bean and loved it. It challenged me because I’m a very shy person, and Mr. Bean can really bring that out of you. He showed me a side of acting I never knew of before, and I decided if I was going to be an actor I should fully go for it and not let anything hold me back. I always loved movies and would tell myself, “Wouldn’t it be great to be there.”
I plan to go to college, maybe University of New Orleans because they have a good film studio. Also, Tulane University has a great program.
I’ve done seven plays, including “The Member of the Wedding” (at Anthony Bean). My family is very supportive. They came on opening night and brought me roses.