The Fresno County Office of Education has teamed up with StageWorks Fresno to put together a new youth summer theater company. STAGES Summer Youth Theatre debuts its first production, titled “Seize the Day!,” Saturday at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. I have an interview with director Joel Abels (who has been a very busy theater guy recently) in Friday’s issue of 7. Here’s the extended version.
Question: How did the project come to be?
Answer: The project is really the brainchild of Bob Bullwinkel and the Fresno County Office of Education. They knew that I had worked with young performers in the past and was contemplating creating some type of summer conservatory-like program. Last fall, he asked if StageWorks Fresno would like to be involved in the creation of this very unique program and I jumped at the chance. We have been working on the program design since that time. We are also fortunate to have partnered with Kim Morin and J Daniel Herring at Fresno State to write the curriculum and train our staff. And we are incredibly lucky to be working in the beautifully renovated Old Administration Building at Fresno City College and collaborating with Chris Boltz, new chair of the Theatre Department.
Tell us a little about the participants. How many are there? How did they get involved in the program?
There are over 30 high school students involved in this innagural summer. The are mostly juniors and seniors from16 high schools all over Fresno County. We have a couple that come in from Firebaugh every day. Talk about dedication! The program was open to all of the Fresno County high schools through an online application process coordinated by the amazing Jennifer Coull, Visual and Performing Arts Consultant at the Fresno County Office of Education. From that large pool of applicants we were able to narrow it down with teacher input from each site.
What has the rehearsal process been like?
In a word, amazing! In the three short weeks that we have been together, these kids have created an incredible bond an trust with one another. This process has been like no other that I have been involved with. Everything about our structure is brand new, well new to all of us teaching and helping the kids create. We have some amazing teacherfellows and college mentors assisting us as well as the talented Brandon Petrie and the effervecent Amy Querin working daily with these students. In the beginning we spent the morning working in a more skills based way with stage movement and improvisation. Our afternoons were spent working on a variety of source writing taken directly from the lives of each and every participant. It is incredibly powerful stuff. Funny at times and deeply serious at others. I have been overwhelmed with how open, trusting and caring these kids have been with one another. Simply beautiful.
Give us a preview of what audience members can expect at Saturday’s performance.
“Seize the Day!” will come directly from the writing and creative minds of the cast. The will be bringing to light issues relevent to them all. Sometimes funny, other times moving, all of it thought provoking. There will be some movement pieces with music included. It is really a potluck of all that we have been working on for the past three weeks.
Is it meant for all ages?
I would say absolutely yes. There is really nothing that would garner a PG rating. Not language or adult situations. Just beautiful honesty.
In terms of your own artistic growth, what have you learned from this experience?
Wow. A lot. Teaching, directing, acting … it is always about learning. We will never stop learning. What I have been reminded about from this experience is that is SO true. One of the goals of this program is that we would create curriculum and a process that the students would take back to their school sites and share with their teachers to use in the classroom. We will be following up with all of the participant teachers and provide them with all of the tools necessary to incorporate this work into their everyday teaching. It’s good stuff. For me that absolutely rings true. I will begin using it day one when the school year starts in August.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Just that this has been an amazing journey. We have all, administrators, teachers and students, had SUCH an incredible experience. To bring together such an array of students, most of whom had never met one another and to develp such trust, such a bond to create a deeply personal work to be shared with an audience has been an experience we have all grown from and one that I will forever cherish.