School just let out for the summer, but for a select group of young actors, it was time to go to work. They put in nine-hour days rehearsing for a small production that could have big implications for drama students in Charlotte.
“Once On This Island, Jr.” was the pilot project of a new program called Teen City Stage, lead by renowned local directors Linda Booth and Lori Anne Sword.
With only six days of rehearsal, 35 kids put on this one-hour musical packed with powerful solos, exuberant group numbers, challenging choreography, and a positive message.
The cast ranged from a fourth-grader to rising college freshmen, representing 15 public and private schools and home-school students. Some have been performing for years, while others are just discovering the stage.
But they all have two things in common: a passion for theater and talent.
“Teen City Stage is a program for kids who are very serious, with a strong interest in pursuing a future in theater,” said Sword.
The idea originated from a parent, who mused to Sword what it would be like to gather the most talented performers from area schools and put them together in a stage show.
Sword says she thought the idea was “brilliant,” but she and Booth decided to take it a step further. Their vision is to work with kids in fifth to 12th grades and develop their talent throughout the years, ultimately giving them the skills, experience and confidence they need to pursue college degrees and careers in the arts.
“There are a lot of good theater programs in Charlotte, but we wanted to do something that was a long term investment,” said Sword.
Sword and Booth, both in their 40s, have extensive resumes that include numerous local and regional accolades. The pair met while working on an elementary school musical 10 years ago.
Since they’ve joined forces for several projects, often with impressive results.
Their work on Charlotte Christian School’s production of “Oklahoma!” this spring, with Sword as director and Booth as choreographer, earned 11 Blumey nominations (the Blumenthal’s version of the Tony Awards for local high school musical theater), and won four awards including Best Choreography Execution and the Wells Fargo Best Musical.
“When Linda and I work (together), we are more of a co-directing team,” said Sword. “She’s much more of a dancer than I am and I’m more of a detail-oriented person. When we work together it’s in complete tandem. We just both naturally migrate to our strengths, and when we work with the kids we are side-by-side directing them as a team.”
They have big plans for Teen City Stage’s future, including fall and spring productions with longer rehearsal periods (12-16 weeks) and two intensive summer programs (one-two weeks) next year. Inclusion in each production is audition-based and paid for by student tuition, although they hope to provide scholarships as needed.
For their inaugural program, Teen City Stage was able to give six full and one half scholarship, a feat Sword says would not have been possible without the support of the theater community. She credits the Blumenthal with giving them resident-company rates for the theater, set and costume designers for donating their services, and the more than 200 audience members who bought a ticket.
“They just really embraced the idea,” said Sword.
So did the young actors and actresses in “Once On This Island, Jr.” The theme of the musical is about community and acceptance, and Sword says it resonated with the cast.
“You would never know that these kids didn’t all know each other. It’s been beautiful to see the older students mentoring the younger ones. The support they’ve given each other – it’s just been amazing.”
Angel Trimble is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Angel? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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