Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 21
Talent through the agesLompoc Youth Theater provides a professional theater experience to its students and audiences with Beauty and the Beast, Jr.
BY JOE PAYNE
The words “youth theater” may conjure, for some, images of construction-paper set pieces, forgotten lines, and terrified-looking kids in costume.
Joyce Mayhew, artistic director of the Lompoc Youth Theater, hopes to dispel any such myths theatergoers have about youth theater with her program’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast, Jr.
“I feel like there is a little misconception because it’s youth theater that it’s going to be like elementary school theater,” she said. “It won’t be. What I teach my kids is professional level.”
Many of Mayhew’s students have been spending their summers as part of the Lompoc Youth Theater for as long as the program has been around—five years. This has given Mayhew a chance to craft many a kid’s talents over several years.
“The sooner they start, the higher the quality goes up,” she said. “I want to teach them the right way; it’s very hard to un-teach bad habits on stage.”
The students she’s enjoyed over five years don’t require any “un-teaching.” One of them, Kaley Bales, is returning for her fifth year with the Lompoc Youth Theater as a 19 year old.
“I have been in all the productions, but this is my second time acting,” she said. “I’m playing Cogsworth, the clock.”
Bales has spent most of her time with the theater as a technician and set designer. Primarily a visual artist, she’s helped professional set designer Laura Schmeiser design and create the set for the production.
“I’m a pretty experienced painter, so [Schmeiser] usually gives me her more complicated painting jobs,” Bales said. “On the stairs and the castle, we needed to paint gargoyles, and she gave that job to me.”
Bales used the skills she developed and honed with the Lompoc Youth Theater to get into an art school in San Francisco. She’s a returning student, even though she’s now an adult. Some of Mayhew’s students cease being her students and even enter the Lompoc Youth Theater as professionals.
“I tell the kids, the people they are doing this show with, these may be people they are collaborating with later,” she said. “Like Nick Brown—I taught him when he was a senior in high school, and now he is our assistant director.”
Mayhew hires professionals to help elevate the production and the kids’ experience and skill. Set designer, costume maker, and even vocal coach are all positions that needed filling to make the Lompoc Youth Theater production happen.
“I think one of the main reasons we are so successful is the people who are our mentors and instructors,” Bales said. “They are all super experienced in their field of work.”
Mayhew’s program is structured to prepare the kids for professional-level theater companies, even down to the rehearsal time. The youth theater meets for a jam-packed three weeks before a show.
“Putting on a musical in three weeks is intensive,” she said. “The kids give up quite a bit of their summer; they have to get to bed early, eat their vegetables, and not get sick.”
The production has been ratcheting up quite a bit of excitement among the students, especially since it’s a take on a film they grew up watching. Cabrillo High School senior Emma Rosen is playing the part of Belle, a character she’s known since she was a small child.
“It was a very surreal feeling when I got cast in the part,” Rosen said. “It’s very different having to create a new character after growing up with that character, because you can’t just copy the movie.”
Mayhew’s student actors follow professional acting techniques to the T. Each character has his or her own unique back-story created and meditated on by the actor. They’ll use this to make the character more a part of themselves, and thus seem more natural. But they can’t do all of that on their own.
“You kind of have to work with the other actors and build something off of them as well,” Rosen said. “There are a lot of different things that we do.”
The level of professionalism in the program trickles down to just about everyone regardless of age, Mayhew explained.
“They know the rules, they know what to focus on, and they know how to tell the story,” she said. “I think this is our best show because we have so much fruit that was the result of many summers’ labor.
“It does keep kids out of trouble,” she added. “They make lasting friendships, and a theater is a very safe place. They make friends of all ages, and in the theater you make friends for the rest of your life.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne is friendly with anyone who provides quality live theater. Contact him at email@example.com.