Kids aged 7 to 18 were invited to participate in this summer’s On with the Show! theater class by LowellArts. It’s set up to provide kids with the experience of auditioning and performing in a short production, newcomers to theater as well as those with experience were encouraged to sign up. The class met over the course of seven evenings before performing for friends and family. “Sidekick Society” debuted last week.
On with the Show!
Brent Alles and Rob Freund, both from LowellArts Players, were instructors/directors for the class with Alles writing the script for the one-act play based on a kid superhero theme. Although Alles is a resident of Wyoming, Michigan, his first experience with LowellArts was in 1999 where he had a role in “Father’s Been to Mars”. He has been teaching the summer theater class for more than 15 years.
On with the Show! was canceled last year due to COVID-19. When LowellArts approached Alles and Freund about resuming this year, it was unclear what the organization’s mask policy would be at the start of the class. Inspired by his lifelong love of superheroes and comic books, it made sense to Alles to write a play about good vs evil where characters could naturally wear masks if they were required. It turned out that masks for actors were optional, but the theme of the class was still a hit with students.
“Sidekick Society” follows a group of heroes and evil minions trying to figure out what to do when they lose their sidekick status after their *real* counterparts disappear from Superior City. Both groups struggle with what to do now that they are on their own and how to handle and try and defeat the opposing group.
Common themes among cast members are how fun rehearsals were, how fun classmates were, and how they’d like to perform in another play as a group in the future. All of the kids put in a lot of hard work that showed during their performance in front of a live audience. Below are some of their thoughts on their experience.
Seven-year-old Eva Densmore played Vanna, an Extra Terrestrial Kid on the heroes team, and was the youngest participant in the class. “I wanted to try something new and meet new people because this play is something I’ve never done before,” she says Densmore. She liked that her character was a brave and confident leader. Densmore is eager to take part in future plays. When asked about her favorite part of the class, she responded with, “My favorite part about the class is that there were nice people there. Mr. Brent made such an awesome play that everyone was good at. I know that it made Brent feel good because he created that play.”
Cash McCauley played Gemini, one of the evil minions. After seeing productions at Lowell High school, the 10-year-old wanted to participate in the summer class “to be like the people in the play”. He liked that his character had a split personality, which showed in his choice of costume and line delivery. “I liked the acting exercises… they were exercises we did to improve our acting skills,” he says of one of his favorite parts of the class. He has also been inspired to write his own play!
“I was in a play before and I really liked it. This was just the thing for me this summer,” says 13-year-old Emily Patyi who played Sykko Fant, one of the evil minions. “It was an amazing cast and crew. The directors were great to work with as well. They did a stupendous job ‘going with the flow.” Patyi liked playing a dark, mysterious character who was also bossy and a bit sensitive to when others pronounced her name the wrong way. She is looking forward to the next production.
The role of Sparrow, one of the heroes, was played by Henry Schrauben who is 10-years-old. “I wanted to see what happened behind the scenes but ended up just acting and it was fun,” he says about his first theater experience. “I liked having a battle staff and being one of the main sidekicks.” He liked getting to know the other members of the class and would like to perform in another play with them.
Twelve-year-old Landis Schenck took on the role of Merry Andie who was part of the evil minion group. “This was my first time acting and I always wanted to try. Summer was a nice chance to do something,” she comments. “I had a great experience. The director was supportive and kind and the kids were all great.” She liked that her character was a “not too bad” villain with a sense of humor.
Joslyn Kissinger is a 10-year-old who played Van, sister of Vanna. When asked about her favorite part of the class, she says, “My favorite part of the play was performing on stage. I love when I first walk out and the audience sees me and I see them.” She also hopes to participate in future LowellArts youth productions.
“My favorite part was making friends with the other actors,” says 14-year-old Cassie DiMeglio who was looking for something new to do. In addition to voicing reporter Betty Boulevard, DiMeglio worked behind the scenes moving props around between scenes when needed.
Importance of Youth Theater
Compliments were given to this year’s class by Alles as well, with him saying it was one of the better groups of students he has taught over the years. During an hour-long audition before class officially started, kids read lines and were assigned parts. Typically half of the kids want the same part according to Alles. However, this group was just happy to be there and while each had a favorite, individuals would have been happy with any role. In the end, everyone got a first or second choice role to make their own.
Alles lists numerous benefits of kids participating in theater. “We can start with the basics of improving reading ability and cognitive skills in terms of reading and memorizing scripts,” he comments. “Presentation skills are an obvious one as well, something that can help kids out in many arenas in the future, even if they’re not going to go into the theatrical or cinematic arts full time. Finally, there’s the camaraderie aspect, where hopefully the kids get to make positive relationships with other kids that, we hope, last for a long time after the production has ended.”
The shortened rehearsal time for the summer theater class is “insane” compared to a full-blown production. Eleven students spent an hour and a half together for seven days rehearsing. “They could be a wild and energetic bunch at times, but I felt they always listened to Rob and I as we gave instruction and direction and so the final product was a breeze,” says Alles of the students. “I’ve never been less worried after a dress rehearsal heading into an actual performance as I was with this class/show.”
LowellArts has brought in a variety of instructors which Alles thinks is a great way to get different perspectives in training. However, he and Freund are usually a “package deal” with Alles referring to Freund as “the yin to my yang” when they collaborate on projects. Alles would love to offer another youth theater class in the fall but it will depend on the duo’s schedule. At the very least, they plan on returning next summer for another edition of On with the Show! provided LowellArts will have them again.
This summer class was Alles’ return to live theater since the start of COVID-19. “As much as we hopefully gave the kids who did the show, in terms of the experience, that they gave so much more to me,” he says, also indicating the kids made his return “extremely fun”. In part from a suggestion by a student in the class, a sequel to “Sidekick Society” could become a future project. He concludes with, “Thanks, kids, at the very least, for rekindling my enthusiasm for working with children’s theater.”