Preparing young actors for the stage
Veteran theater directors Mary Wright and Annie McIntyre hope that the Jamestown Community Theatre can remain a healthy organization for years to come. To make sure of this, young actors are needed to take the reigns once the older generation can’t lead the way anymore.
One way to ensure this is to prepare young children, to get them excited about performing on stage. That’s one reason the two women have scheduled a series of acting workshops to begin the new year.
The classes are intended for children ages 8 through 12. They will be held at the Jamestown Arts Center beginning Jan. 26 and continuing weekly through March 10.
According to Wright, who cofounded of the Jamestown Community Theatre in 1990, the plays that she directs for the theater usually have roles for children – but they are often small roles or chorus parts. In the upcoming scenestudy class, each student will have a part that includes a significant speaking role.
“It will give each one of them the opportunity to shine, and also to learn what it feels like to be on stage,” Wright said.
The class is being presented by the theater in cooperation with the arts center. Wright said that the decision was made to hold the classes at the JAC because the times that were available at the recreation center – the usual home to theater classes – were not suitable.
“We figured it would be a time to begin with some of our dramatic arts there,” Wright said. “I think it’s good to have different kinds of art. I thought that the arts center needed more dramatic arts. So we just decided to try it there. It’s nice to have choices.”
The Jamestown Community Theatre began when Wright and deceased co-founder Patricia Vandal were asked by the town’s substance abuse task force to put on a play that featured children. Vandal was approached because she was a local music teacher. Wright had acting experience in New York City, including a stint on a soap opera. She also had theater training and directed school plays during her 40-year career as a teacher.
The pair decided that they would, but only if the play could also include adults. Their goal was to create a “cross-generational peer relationship,” Wright said.
The new class will include acting games, role-playing, improvisation and character work. There will also be work in line memorization. A variety of scenes will be studied from comedy to straight theater pieces. The scenes will last as long as 15 minutes, and teenagers who have worked with Wright in the past will be on hand to help direct. It will give them an opportunity to try a different discipline.
“It’s like a mini-play almost,” Wright said. “It’s nice to mix the ages that way.”
In the past the theater has held classes solely for adults, as well as classes for both adults and children. There won’t be a musical component this time around because Wright feels that it would limit the ability to give all of the students an equal role, which is the primary goal of this particular class.
“We want the students to come out of it feeling that they’ve had a good experience performing,” Wright said. “They will perform at the end for parents, friends and anybody who would like to come. So they will have an audience.”
The class will meet once a week on Sunday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. for six weeks. The date and time of the final performance will be determined later. The class size is limited to about 20 students and is open to children of any experience. The cost is $75 for members, $90 for nonmembers. Wright said parents of interested children should call her directly at 741- 9818. Older teens with acting experience who want to help out are also welcome.
According to Wright, the goal of the class is to build self-esteem and self-confidence in the young actors. “We have found in the theater that when kids are involved in plays, they do better in school,” Wright said. “It’s a positive experience. Nobody will fail at this as long as they do what they have to do. Kids love it.”
Annie McIntyre, who will help Wright with the class, serves on the theater’s board of directors. She has appeared in and co-directed several theater shows with Wright, and she has also helped teach classes in the past. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts, and studied acting and ballet in New York before returning to Rhode Island.
“I love working with Annie,” Wright said. “She has a great sense of humor and she’s marvelous with kids.”
McIntyre said that she shares Wright’s desire to open the world of theater to children. According to McIntyre, whether they become professional actors or not, it’s a good experience for them.
“It’s especially good for children who might be a little on the shy or insecure side,” she said. “We watch them get into the shows and they just blossom. A lot of that has to do with the way that Mary works with them. It’s a fabulous opportunity for kids to learn how to get up in front of people and not be afraid of it. It’s a very good growth experience.”