Wanted: Stage-Struck Kids

“No more buts, Mrs. Worthington! Nuts, Mrs. Worthington! Don’t put your daughter on the stage!”
— Noel Coward

You’d think that the man who penned “Private Lives” and “Hay Fever,” being a true gentleman of the theater, would appreciate a youngster trodding the boards. But alas, he, like so many of our theatrical brethren, would rather have his teeth extracted than share the stage with an undisciplined child actor.

Fortunately for the Mama Roses waiting patiently in the wings ready to toss their offspring into the spotlight, New Orleans is chock full of theatrical training opportunities for kids of all ages. The best part is, these high-energy summertime
programs can be found from Kenner to downtown, from the north shore to Metairie, and everywhere in between. In fact, if you can’t find the perfect class for your child, you’re probably not looking very hard.

One of the fastest-growing suburban summer theater workshops is now in its third year at Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans. Artistic Director and playwright René J. F. Piazza and managing director Chelle Ambrose offer a three-week course for more than 25 students in the fundamentals of performance. The young actors, ranging in age from 7 to 15, benefit from working with a professional playwright who pens a script tailored specifically for the group, to be performed for the public, says Ambrose.

“We want all of our kids to have a significant role. Writing a new script allows us to do that, and allows them the opportunity to take a character off of the page and bring it to life.”

Across town, the education branch of the city’s only full-time Equity
theater, Southern Rep, has an array of workshops and camps for kids, teens and adults known as “Academy SRT.” Programs for practically every aspect of theater are offered at both the mainstage theater in Canal Place and the Rehearsal Studio on Freret Street. According to Arts Education Director Sarah Z. Singleton, the academy presents workshops that include the Suzuki Method, make-up, costume design, improvisation, sound and lighting design, and even a multi-discipline theater arts camp.

“This helps build upon the Southern Rep ideal of getting the best performers and the best training for us,” says Artistic Director Aimée Hayes. “Plus it’s our goal to encourage children in the SR office neighborhood and those from the metro area to become involved in theater.”

Wanted: Stage-Struck KidsJust up the road is the home of Anthony Bean Community Theatre on Carrollton Avenue. ABCT actually offers year-round afternoon classes, but in the summer about 100 kids (the waiting list is long) aged 8 to 18 pack the building in an intense,
summer-long program.

“We are an advanced camp where everyone must audition to get in. The kids will learn voice projection, monologues, scene study and even set construction, culminating in a large production at the end of the summer,” says artistic director and founder Anthony Bean.

The intense training has produced several young actors who have made names for themselves outside of the city, including 12-year-old Tony Felix, who appeared in K-Ville and the recent Wendell Pierce production of “Waiting for Godot.”

Speaking of success, the young performers of the NOLA Project, who vaulted to rapid respectability in just three years, wish to spread their energy and enthusiasm for theater to youngsters at the Louisiana Children’s Museum this summer. The “Take a Bow Theatre Camp” and Saturday workshops are among the most popular programs at the museum.

NOLA Project Artistic Director Andrew Larimer sees it as a chance to inspire a lifelong love of theater in kids who may not have thought about it before. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a group of kids create something together and light up as they share it. You can watch their confidence build up right in front of you,” he says.

 Wanted: Stage-Struck KidsThe action is not limited to the south shore. Just across the pond in Covington is the ultra- popular Frank Levy Playmakers Summer Theatre Camp.

“We share the entire rainbow of the theater experience, starting with acting and dance instruction and continuing through to the staging of a full show,” says Frank Levy. Each of the 200-plus actors in three different shows will learn lines, blocking and dancing. This year’s shows will include “Peter Pan,” “Pinocchio” and “Treasure on Princess Island.”

For future curtain callers in Mandeville, Artistic Director Lori Bennett of North Star Theatre in Old Mandeville will explore scenes, songs and monologues of the baby boomer generation in “Going Retro: ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s.” This specialized summer workshop is offered for performers aged 8-15 in one-, two- and three-week programs.

Wanted: Stage-Struck KidsFor the older, more advanced actor and technician, the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane’s “All Things Shakespeare!” offers an intense, two-session training program. The first session focuses on class work and training, while the second allows students to participate in rehearsal and performance (last year’s show was “Macbeth”).

Operations Director Brad Robbert points out that many of the students take part in the technical and production aspect of the training. “We have them working on
lighting design, set construction and stage management,” says Robbert. “Not everyone clamors for the limelight, after all.”

New this year is the awarding of the Gavin Mahlie Memorial Scholarship to a student who may not have had the financial means to experience the training offered at the festival. Robbert was amazed at the response once the scholarship was announced. “Donations came pouring in from actors, audience members and people who knew Gav from his days in law school.” The goal of a $10,000 endowment was quickly reached and surpassed, ensuring the scholarship continues for many years to come.

Wanted: Stage-Struck KidsSo what about the kids who want to sing and dance? Crescent City Lights Youth Theatre provides the perfect outlet in the intimate space formerly occupied by NORD Theatre. Artistic Director Julie Condy will direct a cast of more than 30 children this summer in “Bugsy Malone, Jr.” The group is now in its third year providing a nurturing environment for children to hone their skills in the performing arts.

“Theater is the ultimate team sport,” Condy explains. “Working together teaches focus, self-control and discipline. We are very proud that our performers and young technicians go on to NOCCA and other performing arts schools across the country, and many are now working professionally in the arts.”

Tulane Little Lyric Theatre, headed by Diane Banfell, also trains young musical performers in all aspects of live theater, including production. “We take up to 35 kids,” says Banfell. “We are really excited about this year’s show – ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’ In fact, we are excited to help guide and nurture future performers, whether they are onstage here or elsewhere.”

JPAS Summer Youth Musical Artistic Director Lynne Lawrence concurs. “We are all working together for the good of the final project,” she says. “Our program teaches them that several aspects of theater all must come together, and they often learn that something they thought wasn’t fun is, so that makes it worthwhile.”

Lawrence will direct more than 180 children in “Aida” and “Once Upon a Mattress,” both shows appearing on the east and west banks of the river.

Summer theater camps and workshops for kids and adults go far beyond these programs, however. Throughout the area are onstage and technical training opportunities, including actor Lance E. Nichols’ intensive scene study workshop, St. Philip Neri Theatre Camp, St. Tammany Arts Association, Chapelle’s Musical Theatre Camp, Emeril Lagasse Foundation Summer Arts Camp, and even UNO’s
multi-discipline Morning Exploration in the Arts in drawing, watercolor, dance and acting.

Wherever the education occurs, it’s a sure bet that some young students will “catch the bug.” As Anthony Bean discovered on the final day of his very first summer workshop, “They want to stay with us forever.” •

Summer Sessions
Many summer theatrical camps and workshops are already under way, though some may still accept applications for sessions later in the season. Here is a list of some of the programs offered in the local area, with contacts who can provide information about future programs.

Actors Theatre of New Orleans
René J.F. Piazza, artistic director

Academy SRT
(Southern Rep Theatre)
Aimée Hayes, artistic director
Sarah Z. Singleton, arts education director

All Things Shakespeare! (Shakespeare Festival At Tulane)
Brad Robbert, operations director

Anthony Bean Community Theater and Acting School
Anthony Bean, artistic director

Crescent City Lights Youth Theatre
Julie Condy, artistic director

Frank Levy Summer Theatre Camp (Covington)
Frank Levy, artistic director

Jefferson Performing Arts Society
Dennis Assaf, executive and
artistic director
Lynne Lawrence, director of
children’s programming

Louisiana Children’s Museum/NOLA Project
Andrew Larimer, artistic director

NorthStar Theatre Workshop (Covington)
Lori Bennett, artistic director

Tulane Little Lyric Theatre
Diane Banfell, artistic director

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