Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Family Affair

The cast of Cinderella with Nicholas Huntley (second boy from left), Christopher Huntley (far right) and Mitchell Huntley (second from right sitting)
SCR’s Summer Acting Workshop is a two-week commitment during the dog days of August. Not a big deal for students or their parents. But what happens when it’s time to decide whether or not to continue acting classes year-round?  What if the answer is “yes”?  And then, a couple of years later, what happens when the students audition for one of the Players ensemble groups—and get accepted?  Family life changes!

Mike Huntley and Laura Forbes’ 12-year-old son Christopher Huntley attended the Summer Acting Workshop in 2007, the first of four brothers to do so. It all started for Analia Gehley’s 17-year-old daughter Valentina Gehley nine years ago. Christopher and Valentina recently appeared in the Summer Players production of Cinderella—his third show, her sixth. So how are their parents dealing?

Melody Stolpp, Luke Tagle and Valentina
Gehley get into character at rehearsal
for Time Again in Oz."
What prompted you to enroll your kids in the Summer Theatre Workshop?

Mike and Laura:  Ever since kindergarten, when he played the Witch in a classroom production of Hansel and Gretel, Christopher has seemed at home on the stage. By third grade, he was very eager to find an acting class, and a friend suggested SCR’s Summer Workshop.
Analia:  I originally sent Valentina to SCR for fun!  She was always an imaginative child and would sing and dance at home—and tell outrageous, very detailed stories.

After the first full year of acting classes, could you tell they were going to be involved for the long haul?

Christopher Huntley in
The Secret Garden
Mike and Laura:  After his first year-long class, Christopher auditioned for—and did not make—the Summer Players’ production of Peter Pan. When he bounced back quickly from that disappointment, and was looking forward to the second-year class, we knew he was interested in a more long-term commitment. Then, after being in A Christmas Carol, he was totally hooked! 
Analia:  We now knew to prepare for a much more serious commitment and wondered whether we could balance everything. Would she have to sacrifice her school grades?  On the contrary, her experiences at SCR helped her become a better student, more focused and studious. As her commitment intensified, so did ours.

What has family life been like since then?

Mike and Laura:  It has started to involve a lot of driving and hurried dinners, as the kids go to auditions and rehearsals at SCR and elsewhere. But it’s also so rewarding to hear them talk about their rehearsals and their mutual friends from the shows. Having this interest in common has caused them to argue (a little bit) less. And it was so much fun to see all three of them on stage together in Cinderella.
Analia:  Our life began to orbit around her school and theatre schedules. Separate school bags, double snacks, rearranging work schedules, running errands in the area...everything fell into place and quietly became routine, a normal part of our lives.

Akshay Sharma, Makenna Zur Schmiede
and Valentina Gehley in Cinderella.
What is it like to see them in a Players show?

Mike and Laura:  Christopher’s first show was The Secret Garden. In that moment when they wheeled him out on stage (his character, Colin, was in a wheelchair), we were terrified he’d forget his lines. Then, as the show progressed and we relaxed, it was truly amazing to watch our own son acting and singing. We both teared up when Colin pulled himself out of his wheelchair and walked (one of our all-time favorite moments of theater!), and we could not have been prouder.
Analia:  When we watched Valentina on stage as Grace in Cinderella, we were, as always, excited and surprised. She always amazes us. I still can’t believe how fearless she is and how very comfortable and at home she appears on the stage. She loves the entire process, starting with the first peek at the script, costume fittings, blocking, all of it. In some ways [her teachers] Hisa and Erin know her better than we do. They give her parts that we can’t imagine she can perform, but they are able to find it in Valentina and bring it out.

Mike and Laura
Maxwell Weinberg and
Christopher Huntley in
All four Huntley boys have taken acting classes at SCR. Their parents share each boy’s experience.
  • When Nicholas (our future engineer) expressed interest in the Summer Workshop at age 13, we were floored. He loved the two-week workshop and couldn’t wait to take a year-long class. (During that year, he also auditioned for and landed a role in a community theater production, served as stage manager of a musical at his younger brothers’ school, and applied to Orange County High School of the Arts.)  Before his involvement at SCR, we never would have imagined Nicholas up on stage, much less that he would have such a passion for the arts.

  • It was no surprise when Mitchell (at age 8) got involved with the Summer Workshop and then the year-long class. He has always been enthusiastic and outgoing, and has been writing, producing and acting in plays on our fireplace hearth for many years! 

  • Mitchell’s twin brother, Blake, who is fairly shy, had no interest whatsoever in taking an acting class. We thought the experience would be good for him, so we signed him up along with Mitchell in the year-long class. Although he was very hesitant to go on the first day, he had so much fun that he eagerly completed the Fall and Winter sessions.
Being chosen for Players has given all the brothers a lot of confidence and maturity. They love being part of a team to bring a show to life, and have grown closer since they now are part of two “families.” Christopher wants to take his acting to another level, having recently signed with a major talent agency in L.A., and both Nicholas and Christopher are going to Orange County High School of the Arts this fall. All three hope to stay at SCR for many years to come.

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