Founded in 2004 by professional actors Kate Sullivan and Eve Smyth and Oregon Stage Works Artistic Director Peter Alzado, Ashland Children's Theater offers year-round invigorating drama education and performance opportunities for kids ages 4 through 17.
During the course of the year, kids take improvisation and script-based classes, act in theater productions and perform for family and friends.
"It rocks," said 11-year-old Morgan Graham during a recent class at the theater, located at 191 A St. in the Railroad District.
"The place has good vibes," added Star Grace, 11.
Smyth believes in the compatibility of improvisation and script work.
"They both involve collaboration, thinking and expressing yourself creatively and effectively, she said. "Being in the moment and thinking on your feet."
In the improv classes, Smyth guides the students.
"I provide the parameters, but the kids create the characters and the dialogue," she said. "They create the story. It's playwriting on the spot."
"When we work with a script," adds Sullivan, "we do text interpretation. We infuse the text with our life force. There's also more emphasis on stage craft, such as vocal awareness, stage presence and movement."
Alzado believes that the theater offers kids wonderful opportunities for the development of social, thinking, physical and vocal skills that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.
"It's gratifying to see children learn about theatre and develop sound theatre technique," he said.
On Saturday, June 6, at 7 p.m., the TeenProv class will present "The Improv Games — TeenProv Showdown." Two teams will compete for the ultimate in improv comedy.
"Come prepared to laugh," Smyth said.
Starting in mid-June, The Incredible Theatre Camps take center stage at ACT. There are improv camps for all ages: Make Believe Explorers (ages 4-6); Imagination Travelers (ages 6-8); Spontaneous Superstars (ages 9-11); and TeenProv (ages12-17). There's also a Mystery Theatre Performance camp (ages 12-17); two musical theatre camps, Intro to Musical Theatre and More Musical Theatre, both for (ages 9-17); and new this summer, a puppet camp called, Scratch-Built Puppet Theatre (ages 7-12). Camps run for one or two week sessions through mid-August.
"For some kids, improv is totally their deal," Smyth said. "Other kids want a script. They want words that they can play with and push against. They want the repetition so they can get a little bit deeper. Some kids want both. It's so cool that we offer all of these things and serve the kids in different ways."
"At the summer camps, especially, Imagination Travelers and Spontaneous Superstars, campers get a taste of everything," Smyth said. "There's improv, puppets, stage combat, and both camps do choral speeches. Campers learn a short piece of text, not necessarily from a play or a scene, it could be from a poem, and take different lines to perform. The process involves memorization and working with written material."
Spontaneous Superstars does some Shakespeare, as well as creating, writing and performing a monologue. Smyth guides the campers through the writing process
"We also ask the kids what they want to do. We're always open to their desires," Sullivan said.
For the Mystery Theatre production camp, Smyth, an accomplished playwright, will write a play.
"The play will be written to suit the interests and skill levels of the campers. It will be in the film-noir style and have a comedic bent. The production gives the campers an opportunity to exercise their acting chops, and it's a hoot."
There will be two public performances of the play. Singer, songwriter and musical theatre instructor Laura Derocher will lead the musical theatre camps.
"I love to share what I know and lift kids up and get them into their dreams. I develop kids from where they are," Derocher said.
In the introductory class, campers learn the basics of singing, performing and acting a song, including dancing and movement, stage direction and blocking fundamentals. At the end of the camp, kids will be ready to act in a musical production or take the advanced class. In the advanced class, campers with previous musical theater experience will build on their skills. Last summer at ACT, Derocher says she saw something special in camper Amelia Mejia.
"Eve and I encouraged her to audition for a part in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of 'The Music Man.' We coached her through the audition process and she got a part."
"Laura and Eve encouraged and sang with Amelia," said Sugar Mejia, Amelia's mom. "If it wasn't for them, and her experience at OSW, she wouldn't be at OSF."
Scratch-Built Puppet Theatre is a new camp this year. Kyndra Laughery, the camp instructor, however, has been part of the ACT family for several years, doing puppet days with the younger campers. Laughery also does dramatic work with students at Walker Elementary School, is the director of a Rogue Valley teen theatre, and performs with The Hamazons, a local Improv troupe.
"I'm interested in the process of making anything, of creating," Laughery said. "At the camp, the kids and I will figure things out together as we go. We'll have time to explore. The first week of camp we'll make the puppets, build the story, the props and the set. The kids will be able to run with it. I'll be the container. The second week, we'll develop and rehearse the show, and we'll have a chance to learn some puppet skills."
Sullivan said the campers and their puppets will probably march in Ashland's 4th of July parade.
For more information about the Ashland Children's theatre, go to oregonstageworks.org, or call Kate Sullivan at 482-2334 ext. 2.