New Heights! by Jenn Doubleday

     I’ve always wanted to be in the circus.greensilks

     Coming from a carnie family, the desire to run away with a caravan runs deep.  Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t trade my SCT family and the life it has allowed me to lead for anything.  Buuuuuut if some sort of Quantum Leap happened and I got to live in a tiny trailer next to a trick seal, I wouldn’t complain.

     Which is why, in my spare time, I have frequently devoted myself to learning some sort of carnie sport.  I watched jugglers, bought scarves, and tried teaching myself. Not good.  I watched unicyclists, got a unicycle, and tried teaching myself. Really not good.  I’m not too bad at tightrope, and while I’ve never had a tiger to train, I think I’d manage. When aerial dance came on the scene, I knew I wanted to try that, too.

     A relatively new art form, aerial dance (sometimes referred to as aerial tissu or aerial silks) is a form of movement that involves climbing and posing your body on fabric that is suspended from the ceiling.  It was developed by Montreal’s peerless Cirque du Soleil in the mid-nineties as a means of exploring dance and contortion without the limitation of gravity.

     The first opportunity I had to play with them was at SETC in Chattanooga, TN.  Not being known for my patience, I immediately spoke with the director about taking lessons and asked her how she got her start.  Her answer?  “I saw them in the circus, so I bought some fabric and taught myself.”  We got along pretty well.

Aerial Silks

First lesson back in the day! Whee!

     Last year, when we were choosing our 2013-2014 season, our Artistic Director had only one criteria for each show.  Every production had to include some element that we, as a theatre, had never used before.  After settling on Tarzan and Shrek as our Main Stage shows, we decided to make Tarzan vertical.  Utilizing the silks as vines and climbing nets as the jungle canopy, we took our show to new heights, and I fell in love with the aerial arts all over again.     tarzan1  jenntarzan

     Less than a year later, our new aerial program has grown beyond our expectations!  We have a Friday class that, truthfully, is the highlight of my week, and I have many students of all ages (10 to 55) who take private lessons.  Soon, we hope to get a lyra (aerial hoop) as well!

     So what kind of person does aerial arts?  Anyone.  My group class (ages 10-18) includes a 5th-grade gymnast and an 11th-grade baritone.  In my private lessons I have taught a massage therapist, a news anchor, and a fitness instructor, among others.  The one thing all of these people have in common is their desire to experience something new.

annasilks1  weeksonsilks1

     Of course, like any physical activity, there are some requirements.  The rig does have a weight limit, and since you are binding your body with fabric you want to make sure you are in good health, with no prone to dizziness, circulatory disorders or severe skin conditions.  A fear of heights could be a potential setback, but as these things go, our rig is pretty low with a maximum ceiling height of fifteen feet.

   This year, we’ll be using our silks in two different dance shows.  The first is the student-choreographed Jack and the Beanstalk in February, and the second is our annual dance showcase in May.  The theme for 2015 is Dance Around the World, featuring dance styles from all over the globe.

   Never has Canada been so cool.

silksduet1

                                            Anna Smith & Matthew Weeks, SCT Aerial Students

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Family Life at SCT, by Gloria Rigsbee

     “Welcome to the Savannah Children’s Theatre!”  are words you hear at the start of each production.  Being welcomed into a place is very common, but being welcomed into a family is a rare occurrence.  When they are spoken at SCT, your entire family is being welcomed into the amazing world of theatre and the family that is housed within their walls.

Taylor with Corbin (Tarzan) and Brandon (Musical Director) at the cast party

Taylor with Corbin (Tarzan) and Brandon (Musical Director) at the cast party

     For us, the theatre bug bit our oldest daughter in April of last year and our family has loved every moment since!   If you take advantage of each moment leading up to opening night, you can really get the entire family involved and excited about the upcoming experience.  It can begin as simply as putting the soundtrack of the show into your CD player and by the time the curtain is up, everyone knows all the words and can sing along (in their head, of course) with the cast or at home in the shower!  In fact, here’s a video of what goes on at my house when we’re all rehearsing for a show!

     When a production is in the works, there is a role for everyone.  At SCT, the roles available go far beyond those of the actors that grace the stage.  There are so many magic makers the audience never sees!   There are always hands needed back stage, sewing costumes, building sets and in the prop room, because a show could not function without an amazing tech crew.  Once the show starts, there are still many ways to get more involved.  You can sell tickets in the box office, help usher guests into the theatre, hand out playbills and work the concession area.  My husband, Jason, is a regular behind the concession counter and has become a pro at making cotton candy!

Taylor and I after opening night of Disney's Tarzan

Taylor and I after opening night of Disney’s Tarzan

     I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the greatest opportunities offered by SCT:  Main Stage productions.  Auditioning for one of these shows gives you the chance to share the stage with your child.  You are also given an inside look at the amazing care and passion put forth by the staff.  My daughter convinced me to audition for Disney’s Tarzan this year, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  Having an opportunity to take part in a show with many talented actors and most importantly, share in the joy and excitement a show brings to my child was a real blessing.

     While I was aware of how connected my daughter felt to the staff at SCT and casts from the shows she has been in, being part of Tarzan reinforced the beauty of her extended family.   Getting involved at the SCT has provided exposure to so many people and great opportunities to learn from and about each other.  My daughter right away found a place where she belonged, but even more importantly, my family found an environment that brought  us closer together and connected us to so many more families, making SCT our second home.

     After watching a show opening night and watching my entire family be as excited as my little actress, I know without a doubt that SCT has done its job.  They certainly live their mission “to inspire, educate and entertain children and families through the experience of live theatre both on and off the stage.”  Without hesitation, the fulfillment of that mission has been seen in my family countless times this year alone.  Now that Tarzan is over, we have moved on to Shrek, which opens May 30th.  I am thrilled to once again share the stage with my daughter, and other truly talented adults and children.  My younger girls are counting the days until they are old enough to audition for a show!  Jason and I have loved that we have all become a part of such a wonderful family.

tarzanfamily

 

Opening Night!!!, by Laura Keena

  TARZAN.
This show.
_________THIS show.
     As improbable as it may seem, it’s not very often that you get to work on a show with which you are entirely unfamiliar.  This has been one of those experiences!  I can honestly say, working and rehearsing this show has been a challenge and a delight.  I cannot say enough how inspired and privileged I feel to be a part of this stellar group.  All aspects of the performance are firing on all cylinders: set, costumes, choreography, direction.
     Since we came back from the winter break we have been in Tarzan overdrive.  Adding elements of the set such as aerial silks, bungees, and rope walls to name a few.  The cast is totally rising to the challenge!!  I will specifically say that we have quite a few younger cast members among us, and they are kicking butt on that rope wall…trust me…it’s harder than it looks!!!
     On a more serious note, I didn’t know how touching this show could be.  I didn’t know how beautiful and universal the message of Tarzan’s story could be. I  didn’t know that songs from the show would make me laugh, smile, or tear up, rehearsal after rehearsal.  The message of this show is a timeless one: Family.  I encourage everyone to not only come to the show, but to invite a friend or a loved one to experience it with you.  It’s going to be one that will keep you thinking for a while.
     I thought about posting some pictures with this post, but I have to say, I don’t want to ruin the surprise!  Come see this show!!  (Insert whacky ape-man yell here.)

Read, Set, FIELD TRIP! by Carmel Grace Cowart

100 excited children
5 talented instructors
2 fun-filled hours
1 hilarious script
Too many silly hats to count
=
1 Unforgettable Theatre Experience
(No one ever said actors were good at math.)
Cheri Hester, Chris Blair, Carmel Cowart, Laura Keena...just a few members of our amazing field trip team!
Cheri Hester, Chris Blair, Carmel Cowart, Laura Keena…
…just a few members of our amazing field trip team!

A Day in the Life of an SCT Field Trip Instructor

8:30am – The SCT field trip staff arrive at the theatre to prepare for the day’s show.  We gather props and costumes, mend broken bunny ears or create new bug hats if need be, review notes and choreography, all whilst sipping our coffee.  Each of our 27 curriculum-based musicals has at least 8 songs and dances to be learned, smart and funny dialogue to memorize (“Sedimentary, my dear, Watson”), plus separate props and costume pieces to prepare for each number.  I’m not sure if anyone has done an official count, but I’d guess that we have over 5,000 hats and props in our field trip storage area!

10:00am – We activate Field Trip Mode, a unique mode that requires the utmost creativity, the ability to think on your feet at lightning speed, the flexibility to go with the flow of a kindergartner or the reticence of a 6th grader, a big smile, and lots of heart!  The schoolchildren and teachers are buzzing with excitement as they enter the building.  The students are divided into smaller groups, and each group follows an instructor to a designated rehearsal space. For many students, especially those from rural areas or Title I schools, this is the first live theatre experience they will ever have!  The kids have quite a lot to say upon entering the building.

“Whoa, this place is HUGE!”

“When does the MOVIE start?”

“Are we gonna be on TV?”

“Wait…I think I’ve BEEN HERE before!”

10:15am – This is when the students get to flex their creative muscles!   Each group gets a crash-course in theatre; what it means to be in a play, to rehearse, and to perform in front of a life audience.  They learn their musical numbers and speaking roles, and even get to experience a brief audition.  They work on character development, choreography, lyrics, and try on some of the silliest hats you’ve ever seen in order to “get into character!”

Rehearsing Aesop's fable "The Ant and the Dove" with some sweet bird hats.

Rehearsing Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Dove” with some sweet bird hats.

     While we rehearse, the teachers get to take a break in our lobby, or head to Starbucks.  (They say their favorite part of our field trip is watching the children perform, but I’m guessing this mid-morning coffee break is a close-second.)  We want the performance to be a surprise!

10:45am – After rehearsal, all student groups meet on SCT’s proscenium stage for a final dress rehearsal.  This gives the students a chance to release any last-minute jitters, and helps them feel more comfortable onstage before their audience (teachers and chaperons) arrives.  This dress run also enables them to understand the fluidity of the entire show, like which group performs first or last, what hat to wear when, and so on.

11:15am – SHOWTIME! This is the moment when the live theatre magic happens!  It’s amazing to watch what children can do with only an hour of prep, especially when it’s the first time that many of them have ever been on a stage!  They sing, they dance, they laugh, they smile, they learn, they teach, they entertain, they inspire!  Whether they’re acting like pirates, princesses, pilgrims, or (in one show) volcanoes with a gas problem,  I am continually tickled by how much FUN these kids have on our stage, and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of it.

The Lion does a victory dance!

The Lion does a victory dance!

12:00pm – The new, young performers all take a well-deserved bow, smiling ear to ear.  Many proud parents and teachers clap and cheer for them, encouraging their brave performances.  We collect all our props and costumes, and we tell them what a wonderful job they did performing.  Now the field trip is over and the students have to go back to school…boo.  As they are exiting, I often get to hear some of the most joyful remarks while they relish in what they just experienced, rather, what they just created.  Here are some of the students’ words from this week:

“This was the BEST day of my WHOLE life!”

“Remember, JAZZ HANDS!”

“That was AWESOME!”

“I wanna perform ALL day, EVERY day!”

“I LOVE this place!”

     Hopefully, these kids will go home with songs to sing and stories to tell.  One child at each field trip will win a free ticket to an upcoming production; right now each class gets to participate in a coloring contest for TARZAN!  We certainly hope that many more of them will be bitten by the acting bug and visit us again in the future.

     If you’ve never experienced a SCT field trip before, you should remedy that ASAP!  If you’re a teacher and would like to bring your grade level, send us an email, or call (912) 238-9015.  If you’re a parent, tell your child’s teacher about SCT , and please encourage them to contact us!  More field trip info can be found on our website. Come and put on a play with us! 

Field trippingly,

Carmel Grace Cowart

Putting it Together, by David I.L. Poole

 (Read the first part of my design process here!)

      So did my design of the ape costume meet approval?  Yes, it did!  Artistic Director Kelie Miley loved it!

     The next phase of design is the actual implementation, which is where things can become a little tricky.  Transferring the costume from a drawing to the finished product is a process called “draping.”  Draping is a method of dressmaking in which fabric is pinned and hung on a mannequin form in order to create a pattern.  This is usually done with inexpensive fabric, like muslin, so there is no real loss if a mistake occurs.  This process is done with much trial and error, and there may be many drapings depending on the complexities of the garment.  Once a pattern is determined from the draping, then more expensive materials can be cut and sewn into a finished costume.

Draping and pinning one of 28 ape costumes!

Draping and pinning one of 28 ape costumes!

      One of the exciting materials being used is coming all the way from Hawaii!  We ordered traditional Tahitian bark skirts in a variety of colors.  These will be deconstructed and sewn onto the edges of the ape costumes to give a full fur look without it using actual fur, which is very expensive, heavy, and difficult to maintain.   The Tahitian bark will be used on principal characters, while we are using raffia that has been painted and dyed to costume members of the ape ensemble.  With 28 apes to costume, we aren’t just talking about small quantities here; we’re talking loads and loads of material!

A sea of raffia!

A sea of raffia, divided into baskets for each performer.

     After settling on the designs for the apes, the director also asked that I design tropical flower costumes that could bloom on stage, and a hybrid butterfly/puppet costume for some of the featured dancers.  I love these opportunities to create fantastical creatures!  That is why I love to volunteer at the Savannah Children’s Theatre where I have a place to let my imagination soar.

     Thanks to our army of volunteers, including Karen Clark, Pam Edenfield, Chann Givens,  Bonnie Juengert, and Marcia Karp, we are making quick progress.  Main Stage productions are a team effort, and our volunteers are the best in town!  We talk and laugh, sew and hot glue.  Spending time with these creative, talented minds makes the work go by so quickly.

     If you haven’t reserved your seats yet for TARZAN, do it now! Tickets are available on our website, or by calling the box office at 912.238.9015.  The next post you’ll see from me will show the finished product.  But trust me, you’ll want to see it on stage and in action!

Coming Home, by Laura Keena

     I am so glad to be home!

     I am also glad to say that working here at Savannah Children’s Theatre is one of the reasons why.  I loved growing up here in this enchanting place and, like so many of us, my life was forever changed after auditioning for a Kelie Miley production (Peter Pan, to be specific).  After that summer in **cough cough** it was all over!  The theatre bug had seriously bitten me, and I was forever to be a lost boy.  A theatre kid to the bitter end!

     In high school I knew that I wanted to leave Savannah (isn’t that what everyone wants in high school?), and I did.  I went to college in Washington DC, home to a surprisingly vibrant and thriving theatre community.  I studied in London and New York.  I worked in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, anywhere that would allow me to do what I loved!  For a long time Savannah was behind me.  Not forgotten, but not in focus.

     I think of our recent graduates, some of whom are now in their first year away from home, and I remember that bittersweet time in my own life.  Simultaneously loving being away from home, meeting new people and learning so many new things, but also being surprised by how deeply I missed my home.  I’d go about my days, happy to be out on my own, until a sudden craving for my dad’s homemade spaghetti sauce (affectionately known in my house as “the nectar of the gods”) would hit me in the gut.  I was a strong, independent, career-oriented woman…until I came down with the sniffles.  Nothing says “you’re an adult now” quite like buying your own Kleenex and cold medicine.  Eventually, you find your way and you build your home wherever you are, and a while after I left, Savannah stopped feeling like my absolute home.  Until this year.

     Since I moved back in January, I have had the honor and pleasure of working alongside my best friend, my first director, and countless former cast mates.  Like everyone else who works at Savannah Children’s Theatre, I think it best to say that I wear many hats.  Since starting to work here I have been challenged and inspired daily, and it’s only been nine months!  One day Assistant Music Directing 42nd Street, the next Stage Managing Charlotte’s Web, another day rehearsing Jane in our upcoming production of Tarzan, and starting today, Directing And Then There Were None for our burgeoning Teen Theatre class.  I am so glad to be home, doing what I love with the people I love, and being a part of this wonderful arts community!

     So for those of you recently gone, or for those of you preparing to go, know in advance that it’s going to be hard.  And know in advance that it does get easier.  And know that, sometimes, you can go home again. 

Getting the Right Fit, by David I.L. Poole

     I recently took on the task of designing some of the costumes for SCT’s upcoming Main Stage production of Disney’s Tarzan. This blog will share a little insight into this exciting process!

     When designing costumes for a production there are three main factors that I consider:

1) The actors limitations; i.e., in Tarzan they will be partaking in extensive acrobat movement

2) The shape and structure of the time period or animal that I am to design

3) The feeling that the director wants for the show

     In Tarzan I am working primarily on the ape costumes.  So how do I begin?

     First, I begin by having a conversation with Artistic Director , Kelie Miley, and we discuss the project and what she envisions.  I love collaboration and the theatre is a perfect place for it! In our discussion on this production, Kelie’s requests for the ape costumes were that they be made of natural materials, reference tribal culture, and of course, that they be kept to a reasonable budget.

     With this information in hand, I began to immerse myself into the world of the play by gathering all kinds of design references and materials; things like pictures of gorillas, tribal patterns from the Congo, or pieces of natural materials like raffia, leather, and rope. I sit with these materials, organize them, and think about them. I let my imagination soar. This is one of the main reasons I volunteer at the Savannah Children’s Theatre; where else do I get to design and build animals, fantastic creatures, and magical beings and to let my imagination take over?  At this point I might also do a few quick sketches of costumes to make all these references, shapes, and materials come together.

     Then I go through what I like to call an “incubation period” in which I walk away from the project, like putting it on a back burner. I might begin or work on another project as long as I get away from the current one. The period of time depends on production schedule and how fast the turnover from sketch to costume has to occur.  Sometime it is a few months, sometimes this is a day or so.  What this achieves for me is time for my ideas to “incubate” and when I return I can see the project and materials with fresh eyes. At this point I narrow down all the ideas and try to come up with a composite rendering.

     So here is what I came up with for the apes.

Ape Design by David I.L. Poole for Savannah Children's Theatre, October 14, 2013

         Ape Design by David I.L. Poole for Savannah Children’s Theatre, October 14, 2013

 

Next, I await approval of the final rendering. This is when, if there is anything that the director does not like, we can change it.  We gather the actors and start to take measurements to assure the right fit.

     Will this first design meet Kelie’s approval, or will it need to be changed? Stay tuned! I’ll be keeping you up-to-date about our progress throughout the 15 weeks leading up to this amazing new show. You’ll get to see how our costumes are created, from start to finish. Feel free to comment if you have any questions about the process. Until then, I’ll be sketching and sewing!

SCT Cast of Disney’s Tarzan the Musical

     

 

     Congratulations and thank you, to the many who auditioned for our Winter Main Stage production of DISNEY’S TARZAN the MUSICAL! We are really looking forward to bringing this exciting, new musical to Savannah audiences in January, 2014. Here’s a peek at our stellar cast!

Corbin Headshot

Tarzan: Corbin Hernandez

Jane Porter: Laura Keena

Jane Porter: Laura Keena

Terk: Christian Magby

Terk: Christian Magby

Porter: Jamie Keena

Snipes: Len James

Kerchek: Matthew White

Father: Ford Phillips

Mother: Maia Strickland

Young Tarzan: Jackson Hines

Young Terk: Joshua Miller

Leopard: Corinne Willis

Expedition Crewman: Corey Hollinger,

Apes: Evelyn Darling, Ciara Flanders, Katie James, Nan James, Joshua Marcantel, Catie Morris, Michelle Negley, Gloria Rigsbee, Catherine Simmons, Anna Smith, Hope Strickland

Baby Apes: Alex Castro, Anna Claire Edenfield, Noah Fisher, Merrik Foune, Carlie Godbee, Morgan Hines, Annah Manterfield, Raymond Ocasio, Miles Ralph, Taylor Rigsbee, Ellie Strickland

     

     What a great group! We’re still waiting to hear from a few cast members who have not yet called to officially accept their roles. As soon as we get a positive confirmation that they are on-board, their names will be added to this cast list as well. 🙂