Friday, August 26, 2011

SCR Summer Players: Creating a Theatre Family

Nick Slimmer (Wolf #2) behind The Three Little Pigs,
l to r: Mitchell Huntley, Blaze Whiting and Chaney Lieberman in
Into the Woods.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
There were 28 actors in the Summer Players production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Most of them were returning Players and had previous stage experience. One of them never had been a Player, never had appeared in a stage production and—at age 9—was the youngest cast member.

“As a 9-year-old, you don’t have many responsibilities in life,” Chaney Lieberman said candidly, “but Hisa made me feel like I was meant to be there, like I had as much responsibiliy as everyone else.”

“Hisa” is Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa, and her belief in theatre as an ensemble art form is at the heart of the Kids and Teen Acting Program. By the time students like Chaney have completed their first year, the ability to balance individual creativity with the ideas and work of the group is second nature to them.

When Chaney was selected for the Summer Players, she moved from the classroom—and her peer group—to an ensemble of young actors of every age. “I was a little nervous about working with some of the older students at first,” she admitted, “but they were all great to me, too. They made me feel as if I really belonged in the ensemble.”

Chaney brought to rehearsal what she had learned in class about working together to create and tell a story and applied that to the characters she portrayed. “I also learned how to project,” she added, not that much projection was required. As one of The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella’s Birds, Chaney—along with Blaze Whiting and Mitchell Huntley—had non-speaking roles.

“We did get to project when we sang!” she said, pointing out that the pigs and birds joined in several songs. “I loved the musical numbers because they combined both acting and singing.”

Julia Ostmann, Kelsey Kato, Alyse Russell and Jamie Ostmann in
Into the Woods.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
But it was the non-verbal exercises she had learned in class that helped Chaney show emotions through her body rather than through words, with help from two “family” members, Assistant Director Julia Ostmann, who played Jack’s mother in the show, and Chase Anderson-Shaw, who was Cinderella’s father. Chase returned to join the cast of Into the Woods during summer break from USC; Julia is now a freshman at Harvard. Between them, they have logged 16 years in the Kids and Teen Acting Program.

“Julia taught us to make our personalities more graceful so we could move as beautifully as birds,” Chaney said. “From Chase we learned to be the complete opposite of the birds. So, when we moved as pigs, we almost stomped our way across the stage, but as birds, we tried to glide.”

Glide and stomp they did, in roles that wowed the audience as they fit seemlessly into the ensemble. According to Hisa, that’s what it’s all about. “The ability to work and create together is rooted in mutual trust and respect. It’s the core of everything we teach; we hope the result is good art and, even more importantly, a worthwhile life lesson to learn at any age.”

The result was good art. Audiences loved the show, and Daily Pilot critic Tom Titus, noticed how well the cast worked together, saying, “The ensemble is uniformly impressive. Few shows could be more enjoyable.”

But it’s the young actors’ raves that really count. Take it from Chaney. “It was a wonderful experience, not just for the acting and singing but for meeting so many great people in the process and sharing great memories with them.”

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