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Featured Theatre: Stage Kids California

Founder Michelle McCormick launched Stage Kids California (SKCA) Theater School in Fall, 2010 when she discovered there was a desire for more options in children's community theater programs. Since then, SKCA fulfills its mission of "Building Characters One Child at a Time" by developing and nurturing young people's potential through classes, workshops and performances.

Susan Rojas, SKCA's Operations Manager, tells us more about this wonderful group and offers insight about youth theatre programs. Check out more from SKCA in this month's feature article about summer youth theatre programs.

It sounds like your musical theater classes are focused on learning theatre skills rather than being focused on the production. Do you think this makes SKCA different than other youth programs?

Yes we do! Focusing on building a child's skills builds their confidence, knowledge and abilities. Giving them this important foundation in turn provides us with actors who are ready to take their skills and let them shine on stage.

Do students who complete your classes, productions or camps move on to perform in local or community theatre productions?

Yes, we have many Stage Kids alumni who are currently active in local community theater productions.

Ally B. has performed in several productions with West Valley Light Opera since she aged out of Stage Kids and just this month she performed at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Another Stage Kids alumni, Alyssa R. is currently in rehearsals for an original work titled "A Beautiful Glass" with the critically acclaimed, A Theatre Near U which opens in June.

How does the experience(s) with Stage Kids California help them when they are being cast in, rehearsing or performing with other theatres or groups?

Our kids know what is expected of them and come prepared for auditions. They display a level of professionalism not usually seen at their age.

What skills or experience do you think it takes a community theatre director to direct children, particularly in a production that has both children and adults?

First of all a love for children, patience, organization and creativity. A background in theater is helpful and loving what you do is a must.

What advice do you have for a community theatre director who has limited experience directing children/youth?

Remember to breathe, and most of all have fun.

I imagine many of your students and participants dream of going to Broadway or performing professionally. How does SKCA guide them on this path?

We offer Master Classes, Voice and Audition workshops, and other opportunities during the year. This gives them hands-on experience and a level of professionalism that they will need along their path.

I noticed that students over the age of 12 who participate in your classes are able to work on backstage crews. I think this is fantastic! It seems like young participants might not have as many opportunities to even find out if they enjoy backstage work until they are older. Tell me about your students who work backstage - do they discover a love for the technical side of theatre, or do they come to SKCA with this passion already?

In my experience, the students who end up as our technical and backstage interns develop the interest while they are actors in the production. SK gives opportunities for young people to learn all aspects of backstage- makeup, curtain, set moving, as well as staging, choreography, light, sound and mic operators.

Our intern program develops skills based on the interests of the student. We have one technical intern that is now running the sound board at her high school's performances, as well as the SK productions.

Our choreography and staging interns have grown and developed their skills through teaching dances and blocking scenes in our ongoing productions. Some are even planning on pursuing this in college.

What should community theatre producers know when they are considering a youth show for their theatre? For example, are there benefits to choosing a junior version of a musical instead of the traditional version?

First you need to consider the age and number of children you are casting for a show. For younger ages (7-10) a "kids" version and a smaller cast is more suitable, but for a cast of 40 actors ages 8-14, a "junior" version has worked best for us.

If a community theatre is interested in starting a youth program or classes, where should they start? What should they look for in teachers/instructors? Are there specific style classes or skills that either more popular or more beneficial for youth participants specifically?

Stage Kids started with classes, then added 2 and 3 week Summer production camps and then finally added a full production to our line up. Teachers and staff must be knowledgeable in their area of expertise and like working with the age group of kids they are focusing on. A basic acting class, voice and dance are are a great start for class selections.

Parent involvement can be a great thing when it comes to youth programs. How do you keep parents participating in the capacity that works best for SKCA?

In order to produce our shows, parent invovlement is essential. We let parents know that they are a key part of the production, and that we need everyone to participate at some level for the show to be a success. We ask each family to volunteer 20 hours, but many families put in more hours than required as they enjoy being part of the production as much as their kids do. Parents enjoy bringing their individual talents, such as costuming, makeup and organizational skills to make the show a success. To be able to see the final product and know you had a hand in bringing it to fruition is very satisfying.

What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?

Wikipedia describes it as "theatrical performance made by, with, and for a community." We love that definition because our shows are created with collaboration of professionals, parents and children. To us, "community" is an important word, where all feel welcome and accepted. Even our community of parents have a great time together!

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