Don’t Miss Last Performances of SMTI

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Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

We can’t believe it but it’s almost the end of summer and you know what means: our mainstage season is just around the corner!

But before we kick off our landmark 40th Anniversary Season, our Summer Musical Theatre Intensive (SMTI) Junior Session is taking center stage with their production of Once On This Island this weekend, Aug. 6-8.

From the Tony Award-winning songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Seussical, Ragtime) comes the Olivier Award-winning Once On This Island. This highly original and theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy 15829_956660064376724_310560760827849491_ntale The Little Mermaid garnered eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.

Celebrate storytelling with this rousing Calypso-flavored tale of one small girl who finds love in a world of prejudice.

Performances are:

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7
  • 1 & 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.therep.org or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Q&A with SMTI Production Coordinator Katherine Tanner

FullSizeRenderCan you believe it has been 10 years since the Summer Musical Theatre Intensive got its incredible start within the confines of Arkansas Repertory Theatre?

Under the direction of Nicole Capri, the program has helped craft top-notch young artists in central Arkansas who have gone to big things in the entertainment world.

One person who actually saw the beginning of the program and has returned for the big 10th anniversary is production coordinator Katherine Tanner.

See what she had to say about her involvement with the program, how it’s evolved since its inception and more:

Q: What is your theatre training and experience?

A: As a young theatre educator, I have found that people (and not productions) are the most important aspect of my career. Real people are who I have studied and who I present when working on a production. I am an ongoing student of theatre and will never claim that ‘I’ve arrived’ or know all there is to know.

I was a ‘transferholic’ in college and because of it, have had a one-of-a-kind education.  I started at OBU, went to Columbia College Chicago and finally graduated from California State University Northridge, where I focused in directing.

In those areas, I was always able to work in the theatre departments and scene shops learning all I could in every aspect of theatre. I was mentored by many inspiring people in the last 10 years, including Susan Nichols, Fred Boosey, Scott Holsclaw, Eric Phillips (OBU), Sheldon Patinkin (co-founder of The Second City), Susan Padveen (CCC), Nicole Capri, Larry Biederman (CSUN) and Melissa Chalsma (co-founder of independent Shakespeare Co.) to name a few I greatly admire.  It is through their encouragement that I have skills that vary from welding steel to directing and most things in between.

Q: Can you give a brief history of your involvement with SMTI?

A: When SMTI began in 2005, there were only four women running the program and I was one of them.  I was titled the ‘Assistant Stage Manager,’ however, I was responsible for pulling props, running rehearsals, cleaning bathrooms, taking out trash, putting mics on the cast, tracking and mixing the mics from the sound console. In 2006, I was the Stage Manager with two peer interns and cast.  Let’s just say, it was as challenging as the prior year and then some.

Q: How do you think SMTI has evolved over the years?

A: The support from designers, choreographers, musical directors and directors has intensified the SMTI program, making it professional quality theatre entertainment.  It no long feels like a camp for kids–it’s a ‘coming-out’ celebration of the state’s young artists.

Q: What are you most excited about being a part of the 10th Anniversary of SMTI?

A: I am most excited to be back to celebrate the milestone– how far SMTI has come.

Q: Why is SMTI so important for local young artists?

A: This program rivals those nationally known and it’s in their backyard.  This program provides a network and support system for the young artists as they go off to college and into the professional world.

Don’t miss all of the incredible this summer when SMTI productions take flight in our new education space and on The Rep MainStage. Here is a lineup of productions not to miss this summer:

Senior SMTI: Once on This Island

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, July 23
  • 7 p.m. Friday, July 24
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, July 25
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25

SMTI Select II: Really Rosie

  • 7 p.m. Friday, July 31
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1

Junior SMTI: Once in This Island

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8

Get more information about tickets for these shows by calling the Box Office at  (501) 378-0405!

Q&A with SMTI Select Director Ethan Paulini

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Ethan Paulini as Buddy in Elf. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

Arkansas Repertory Theatre ended its 39th MainStage June 21 with the incredible production of August: Osage County and will resume in September with the first show of its landmark 40th Season with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

But, just because there is a break in our seasons doesn’t mean the theatre takes a break. In fact, hundreds of young artists will be taking center stage through the summer for our annual Summer Musical Theatre Intensive sessions. The youngest of these artists will be learning from one of The Rep’s best returning actors, Ethan Paulini (Elf, Avenue Q, The Full Monty), for two SMTI Select sessions from July 6-18 and July 20-Aug. 1.

We had the chance to talk to Paulini about his return to Little Rock, what he loves most about coaching, his favorite Rep production and more. Here is what he had to say:

Q: What is your theatre training?

A: I grew up training at the Harwich Junior Theatre (HJT). I received a degree in Acting from Emerson College in Boston and I currently study voice with Larson Award Winner Marisa Michelson.
Q: You were most recently the lead in our show Elf and have been in several shows at The Rep. What keeps you coming back?

A: Arkansas Rep is one of the most welcoming and artistically supportive places I have ever worked. The directors, designers and actors I get to work with are fantastic. I always feel challenged. The audiences are curious and smart. Ultimately, it feels like home and home is made up of people.

Q: What will you be instructing the SMTI Select students on?

A: We will work on many aspects of performing. From presenting a successful audition to storytelling, voice, speech and movement. The students will participate in exercises that challenge their imagination and sharpen their actor toolbox. I will help them learn how to create their own process, from rehearsing to maintaining a performance. We will also be working on presenting the musical Really Rosie. It is a wonderful collection of musical vignettes by Carole King.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a theatre coach to young artists?

A: Growth. Theatre is not an exact science. There is no right or wrong, so I love watching each artist, regardless of age, bring themselves to the work. Oftentimes through that exploration, they discover a lot about themselves, both artistically and personally.

Q: Why is the SMTI program so important for young artists in central Arkansas?

A: Young artists in central Arkansas are so lucky to have Nicole Capri and the SMTI program. Not only does it create talented, exciting artists but also provides an important creative outlet to so many young people. Theatre training fosters discipline, creative thinking, builds self esteem and develops a community that can be an important support system both on and off stage.

Q: What is your favorite production you’ve been in at The Rep and why?

A: I love them all for different reasons, but I think the most recent show, Elf, was especially special. The reaction was so overwhelming. I got to spend the holidays doing what I love with people that I love. I also have two young nephews and a niece and it was the perfect way to share with them and create a wonderful holiday memory.


Sidenote with Ethan

Favorite place to eat in Little Rock: So many places! I think Little Rock is a GREAT food city. My dad runs restaurants, so I have grown into a bit of a foodie. If I only had time for one meal in Little Rock, though, it would probably be Whole Hog Cafe. I am from the northeast, so BBQ is really a special cuisine. I even ship their sauces home with me when I come to The Rep so I have a little taste of Little Rock in New York.

What you’re doing when you’re not on stage: I actually love going to see theatre and movies, spending time with friends and traveling. Performing takes lot of energy and stamina so I make sure to take time to rest and work out regularly. I also have multiple writing projects in the works so I steal time to work on those when I can. I am a huge baseball fan (Go Red Sox!) and I have an unnatural obsession with the TV show “The Golden Girls.”

Favorite musical right now: I saw the new Kander and Ebb musical The Visit four times during it’s recent Broadway run. They were responsible for such classic musicals as Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Chicago. Fred Ebb passed away several years ago so this will be their final new show to make it to Broadway. It was dark, smart, chilling and the music was incredible.

Total shows you’ve been in at The Rep: six shows: The Full Monty, The Who’s Tommy, White Christmas, Avenue Q, Compleat Wks of WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED) and Elf.

Don’t miss SMTI Select in action when their production Really Rosie takes The Rep stage at 7 p.m. Friday, July 17 and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18 (first session) and 7 p.m. Friday, July 31 and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 (second session). Tickets are $10 and can be booked online at TheRep.org or at (501) 378-0405.

 

SMTI Alumni Week: What is Summer Musical Theatre Intensive?

REP_SMTI_logoTo celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s young artist program, Summer Musical Theatre Intensive (SMTI), we are having a special alumni week highlighting those who have honed their acting, dancing and singing skills in the program.

So, what is SMTI– dubbed “Smitty’– exactly?

The Rep offers two summer programs as part of its SMTI training program for aspiring young artists in Arkansas. Under the direction of Nicole Capri, The Rep’s Resident Director and Director of Education, the program is an intensive, audition-based theatre training program designed  for motivated young artists who are serious about the arts and musical theatre.

The SMTI staff is comprised of professional directors, choreographers, musicians and 7880466730_e559c501e6_kdesigners. Daily rehearsals are structured similarly to a professional summer stock experience and include instruction in musical theatre techniques, multimedia, costume and stage makeup, dance and vocal coaching. Each session involves intensive daily rehearsals culminating in a public workshop performance of a selected musical or musical revue.

The summer production is then refined, recast and remounted in the fall (or spring this season!) on The Rep Main Stage for patrons of all ages, and remains one of the most popular productions at the theatre each season.

This week, the latest young artist production is taking center stage: Project Elan! Get your tickets now by visiting TheRep.org or calling (501) 378-0405 and check back later this week on the blog for a look at some notable SMTI alumni who have gone on to TV, Broadway, music and more!

Also follow us on Facebook to see more alumni share their favorite memories and pictures from their time in SMTI!

Project Élan: Q&A with Creator/Director Nicole Capri

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Before the 39th MainStage Season comes to an end, The Rep is excited to showcase a world premiere show– young artist production Project Elan.

Taking stage from May 5-16, Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical that seeks to shed light on the individual and universal needs of the millennial generation. Digital and uniquely undefinable, this generation seeks to find answers in an unpredictable world. And although they may appear to be an age overrun by technology and isolation, their dreams are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

I recently had the chance to talk with creator and director Nicole Capri, The Rep Resident Director and Director of Education, about the inspiration behind the show, what it’s about, songs to look out for and more! Here is what she had to say:

Q: What is Project Élan about?

A: Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical about the millennial generation – how they connect and relate to each other, their relationships, their hopes, their dreams, their fears and how technology has changed the way they interact with the world and the people around them.

Philosophers have predicted and many people now fear that today’s youth are being overrun by technology and isolation, but the dreams they have are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

The writers of Project Élan hope to shed light on the individual and universal needs of a uniquely undefinable generation, and a growing digital industry that impacts all of us.

Q: What gave you the inspiration to create Project Élan?

A: I’ve wanted to create an original musical for years, but I wanted to have something significant to say and I knew I needed the right creative team of collaborators to make it happen.

A few years ago, I had been journaling for several months about technology and how it was affecting the young artists I work with. As an acting coach and director, my job is to teach young artists how to authentically communicate and connect with their audience – and more importantly – with each other. Over the years (as technology has boomed and everyone now has a cellphone in their hand), I have found my job to be more difficult. We’re all so over-committed– attention spans are so much shorter and I’ve often wondered if the ability to connect face-to-face would one day become a lost art form.

Without disparaging the growth or the use of technology, I wanted to pose several questions:

  • With so much connectivity around us, are we now entering a dark age of genuine, authentic relationships?
  • Are we allowing technology to cause us to withdraw from the people around us and those that we love the most?
  • or… Is our world simply projectelanbeing redefined?

The word ‘élan’ means – to live with passion and reckless abandon, to live in the moment and to live each day as if it were our last. I wondered if I was living my own life just trying to get through the next project or scratch the next thing off my ‘TO DO’ list. I felt as though I was living a life where I was ‘glorifying the idea of being busy.’ I was tired… and I wanted more ‘life in my life.’ Something had to change.

I finally felt like I had something significant to say.

While in New York City auditioning actors for The Rep’s production of White Christmas, my music director, Mark Binns, and I went to see the musical Once on Broadway. We both looked at each other at the end of the show and said almost simultaneously, ‘We need to write a musical.’ It was kismet. That was in the fall of 2011.

Q: How long have you been working on this original show?

A: Our team of song writers began working together in the fall of 2012. The writers are from all over the country now, so we gathered together for the first time for a week in the home of Susan and Herren Hickingbotham’s. We felt like a band of gypsy artists, sprawled out all over their living room, singing and writing and occasionally taking naps. They fed us and would come down and encourage us and listen to our latest lyrics and creations. They were definitely our biggest supporters throughout this whole project – tangibly and spiritually.

We’ve rarely all gotten to be together in the same place since then… we’ve done a lot of writing over the phone and via Skype. We had a week together in Nashville before Bobby and Charity moved to Los Angeles. Conly and I have had long coffee-shop talks when I go to cast in NYC. And we camped out again for another week at the Hickingbothams on the home-stretch finishing the final touches of the latest script. The songs and storylines have changed and evolved over time and the way we collaborate and interact has become stronger and more exciting. When we first began over two years ago… we were trying to figure out how we all work, dream and create. Now that we understand eachother’s creative rhythms better, it’s been easier to focus more on fine-tuning the storyline and streamlining the rough edges of the show. The final puzzle piece of the show is our project/stage manager, Beth Thiemann. Without her, none of this would have been possible.

Q: What will be patrons be able to expect from the show?

A: We hope that our audiences will leave our show asking questions.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with a renewed desire to spend tangible, touchable time with the people that they love.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with hope.

When we work-shopped the original idea for Project Elan two summers ago, one parent remarked that she ‘felt like she got a window into her kids world.’ Interestingly… during the rehearsal process, so many of the cast members said they felt that they understood their parent’s generation so much more after participating in the creation of the piece.

Maybe there is a type of ‘generation connector’ in Project Elan? Or even just a reminder that life is too short to continue trying to live it as fast as possible.

If nothing else, we hope that our audiences will feel that we have moved them and enriched their lives in some small way.

Q: Song that patrons should look out for?

A: The show has such a diverse musical score with original songs from almost every genre of music. This is not your typical ‘Broadway book musical.’ The music you will hear will be more like what you would find on the radio – contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, urban-rock, indie-pop, Nashville-sound and progressive-Broadway.

Those who saw the original workshop will also hear two brand-new pieces and some big changes to familiar songs.

I’ve been asked several times what my favorite songs are from the show… it’s hard to decide and it changes daily. They’re all so different, but the one that haunts me most and gives me the most hope is one written by Conly Basham. The title is ‘Morning Song’ and it sounds like something you might hear on a soundtrack from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Some of the lyrics are:

SOMETIMES WE LAUGH, WE FLY WE DANCE.

A CHANCE FOR EACH – FOR EACH, A CHANCE

STILL MOONS WILL GLARE AND NIGHTTIME CRAWL.

STEP OUT OF DARKNESS INTO ALL

THE LIGHT OF MORNING

Q: What was the best part of the writing process for the musical?

A:

  1. Creating a beautiful piece with my favorite collaborators in the world who amaze me with their talents every single day
  2. Creating a piece from scratch with young artists who shared their lives and their hearts to create the book of the show
  3. Watching a show that was only a glimmer of an idea several years ago come to life in front of a live audience
  4. (always my answer) Watching my parents watch one of my shows.

And finally… on the front page of my journal in 2006… I wrote ‘What will be my legacy? How will they remember me?’ I always thought that would make great lyrics to a song. I shared that with Binns and he turned those two sentences into the opening number of the show. It always amazes me how one small idea can come to life in a way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. That is the art of synergy and collaboration, and that is the rarity of working with artists who are not only amazingly talented, but people who understand your heart, your passion and your vision. Two sentences scribbled on the front of a notebook almost 10 years ago became a fully orchestrated number for 60-plus people. All I had to do was share that one idea with the right person. It’s an amazing thing if you think about it.

How did you select the writers of the show?

A: Conly Basham and I have been saying for almost 10 years that we should write a show together. She was the one who introduced me to Mark Binns four years ago. They have such a positive and uniquely indescribable chemistry. I’ve never seen two people create so seamlessly together. I knew that anyone else we added to the mix needed to be a positive energy force, but we also wanted interesting diversity. Other elements that were really important to us were people who understood the mission and honor code we try to instill in the young people we teach, and interestingly… we all share a love for Christ. It wasn’t really planned that way, but it is a powerful and prayerful group of people to collaborate with.

It almost seemed effortless in choosing the other members of our team; Bobby Banister who now lives in LA and is doing a ton of producing and writing, Charity Vance who was an SMTI alum who got her big break on ‘American Idol,’ Jimmy Landfair (who became involved in the program through his younger sister Julia) who is writing and touring out of Nashville, Robert Frost was another SMTI alumni who is an amazing writer/composer who is now the music director at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre and Sam Clark – an SMTI alumni and local singer/songwriter. We call Sam the ‘normal one’ in our group. Sam is an engineer by day and we all secretly hope that he will be the one to support us one day.

It’s a great group of people. There are times when everything works and clicks and obviously there are times when we don’t agree, but ultimately… we are all committed to the project and the message which we believe is a message of hope.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

A:This is the show you won’t want to miss. This is the game-changer for The Rep and for this program.

Seats are $30 and $25 for season subscribers. Get your tickets by clicking here or calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405! Get more information on the blog here.

World Premiere of Young Artist Production Project Elan to Take Rep Stage in May

projectelanNow that Mary Poppins has taken flight and ended its run Sunday, Arkansas Repertory Theatre is gearing up for its next production– a world premiere that will be performed by Summer Musical Theatre Intensive program alumni.

Taking stage from May 5-16, Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical that seeks to shed light on the individual and universal needs of the millennial generation. Digital and uniquely undefinable, this generation seeks to find answers in an unpredictable world. And although they may appear to be an age overrun by technology and isolation, their dreams are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

Conceived and directed by The Rep’s Resident Director and Director of Education, Nicole Capri, Project Élan is written by Capri and seven SMTI alumni and staff including: Bobby Banister; Conly Basham; Mark Binns; Sam Clark; Robert Frost; Jimmy Landfair; and Charity Vance. The production, which opens on the 10-year anniversary of The Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive (SMTI) program, features approximately 50 of the best past and present alumni from the last decade of the program.

The musical features a diverse musical score with original songs from almost every genre of music – contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, urban-rock, indie-pop, jazz-fusion, Nashville-sound, progressive-Broadway and sunshine-pop.

The word “élan” – is defined in several ways — “to live in the moment,” “to live with reckless abandon and enthusiasm,” “confidence,” and “spirit.” The writers of this piece seek to produce a relevant and relatable musical that speaks to the heart of all generations.

Here is a rundown of the performances:

  • 7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, May 5-8
  • 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Saturday, May 9
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, May 10
  • 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, May 14-15
  • 2 & 7 p.m. Saturday, May 16

Seats are $30 and $25 for season subscribers. Get your tickets by clicking here or calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405!

Get Ready for The Rep’s Biggest Event of the Year: 31st Annual Saints & Sinners

12295416835_f56809181b_zOn Jan. 31, Arkansas art aficionados will come together to celebrate the state’s largest non-profit professional theatre company, Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
The 31st Annual Arkansas Repertory Theatre Saints and Sinners Gala will be held at the Statehouse Convention Center Wally Allen Ballroom at 6 p.m. The 2015 gala will be emceed by KTHV Channel 11’s Craig O’Neill, and will feature special entertainment offering a glimpse of the magic The Rep produces throughout the year.
The gala is co-chaired by Marla Johnson and James Norris, both of Aristotle.
In addition to special entertainment, the evening will feature both a silent and live auction, 12295645564_0625e1982a_zdinner, and dancing. Tickets for the event are available starting at $400 per person. Table sales and sponsorship are also available.
“Saints and Sinners has the reputation of being the most fun black-tie gala of the year, and I honestly have to agree,” said James Norris, event co-chair.  “The Rep knows entertainment, so everything about the event is infused with theatricality and wonder.”
Funds raised at the gala will support the organization’s mission of creating a diverse body of theatrical work. A special education donation will be taken and fund The Rep’s educational programming, including its Summer Musical Theatre Intensive (SMTI) program and student matinees.
12295451364_4ef1f55494_z“The Rep is where we gather as a community to learn, share and celebrate what is important to us,” said Marla Johnson, event co-chair.  “The theatre means so much to so many of us. Without it as the long-time anchor, there would be no Main Street Revitalization; there would be no Creative Corridor. Without it, we would not be nearly as cool a city!”To purchase tickets to Saints and Sinners, contact Ronda Lewis at (501) 378-0445, ext. 203 or rlewis@therep.org.  Tickets can also be purchased online at www.therep.org.

Behind the Curtain Q&A: Resident Director and Director of Education Nicole Capri

With the 2014-2015 MainStage Season in full swing, we want to showcase the people behind the Rep stage in a series called “Behind the Curtain.” This weekly Q&A series highlights staff members who keep the Arkansas Repertory Theatre running on a daily basis.

Someone who directs not only our Young Artist program (including the Summer Musical Theatre Intensive), but also directs shows through the season, like the upcoming production of Elf– is Resident Director and Director of Education Nicole Capri.

WIN FOUR REPSHere is what she has to say about her theatre experience here at The Rep:

How long have you worked at The Rep? 12 years

Education/Training: Theatre, Dance and Music at the University of Memphis– attended college on an Orchestral Music scholarship (viola) but was received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre;  Professional theatre school at The National Theatre of the Deaf in Chester, Conn.

How’d you get into the theatre biz: My first play was Peter Rabbit. I was about five years old and I played the Cottontail Rabbit. My mom and dad asked me afterward if I wanted to be an actress and I said, ‘No… I want to be the director.’

Why your job rocks: I love conceiving, writing, casting and directing projects from start to finish, but the best part is working with young people and watching them embrace the process of ‘removing their Saran Wrap’ to become vulnerable and authentic. I teach my young artists that ‘their job as actors is to spread joy.’ The development and discovery process of young people is the most exciting part of my job.  My job is simply to love them, and their job is to learn to not only love and accept each other, but to learn how to love and appreciate themselves. Watching young actors take risks (painful and exhilarating), helping them to realistically identify their strengths and weaknesses and work to achieve attainable goals is the most rewarding part of my entire career.  I’ve seen kids from our SMTI training program go on to attend the best theatre schools in the country and become working professionals as actors, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, directors and teachers, but I’ve also seen our alumni use the skills they’ve learned at The Rep to become better doctors, and political activists and military officers and moms and dads.  My job and this program is about building confidence, building relationships, building a community that is solid and socially aware and most importantly, friendships and ‘safety-nets’ that will last a lifetime. Theatre can be a self-realizing and a healing art, and the more I work in this business, the more I realize that the main part of my job is to authentically love the people I coach and direct and to encourage young people learn how to trust and authentically love each other.

Best work day ever: Hmmmm… it’s so hard to choose.  There have been so many.  But the first thing that comes to my mind is in 2005 during our first SMTI tech rehearsal.  One of my first students, Hannah Eakin, (who ten years later is still my ‘adopted daughter’) sang ‘By My Side’ with the entire cast on stage. It was beautiful. Heart-felt. And I was genuinely moved.  It was at that moment that I think I realized that we really had something special here.  And it was at that moment I believe I finally embraced what I was really called to do with my life.

Favorite Rep show you’ve worked on and why: Professional show?  Probably Next to Normal. Young artist’s show?  It would probably be a toss-up between Singin’ on a Star (which was based on my journal as a struggling actress in my 20s) and the original musical my friends and I work-shopped last summer that will have a two-week run in the spring of 2015. Project Elan is a brand-new musical written by seven SMTI alumni and staff, including Bobby Banister, Conly Basham, Mark Binns, Sam Clark, Robert Frost, Jimmy Landfair, Charity Vance and myself.  This is a project that is so close to my heart and that I have huge hopes will have a life beyond The Rep’s stage. For more information, go to www.projectelan.com

One thing people would be surprised about your job:  My job is not glamorous… and for every one person I make ‘happy,’ I probably disappoint at least 10.  My job is not 9 to 5 and it’s definitely more sweaty than you could imagine.  I wear sweatpants, sneakers and a baseball cap more than dresses and heels.

Favorite seat in the house: I love every seat in the house.  The theatre is so intimate and no one is ever more than 40 feet away from the stage.  But when I’m directing, I sit in a different place all the time because I want to see my show from every angle.  Many times, I will drop by my show when it’s in a long run to ‘check in.’ You can see me leaning up against the back post on the house-left side of the theatre because I love to watch the audience watch my shows.

Best job perk: There are so many great things about my job— but the biggest job perk is what makes my job possible – my boss (but please don’t tell him because I always tell him that he’s ‘not the boss of me’). The thing I appreciate the most about working for Bob is that he seems to get how my brain works and encourages me to work in a way that allows me to be my most creative and productive (which is usually between 10 and 2 in the middle of the night). I’ve never been good at sitting at a desk and I’m too ADD to write in an environment with lots of distraction.  But working for him, I never feel like I’m punching a time-clock when I’m creating or writing a new piece. I am evaluated on my product rather than my crazy (sometimes unconventional) process.  I am praised for my efforts and listened to when I come to him with new ideas. I love working for an artist who understands the creative process.  Bob offers constructive criticism and never makes me feel micro-managed.  I am empowered and encouraged to do my best work. It’s an artist’s dream job.

Be sure to check back every week to get a glimpse at a different member of The Rep staff. Buy your tickets to Elf here!

SMTI Junior Session: Q&A with Elena McKinnis

ElenaMckinnis

The 2014 Summer Intensive Theatre Musical program is drawing to a close this weekend with three performances of Godspell performed by the junior class.

And one of the many dedicated young performers you will see onstage is Pulaski Academy 10th grader Elena McKinnis, 15, who hopes to continue her theatrical and dancing career beyond high school.

We had the chance to talk with this longtime ballet dancer about her experience with the summer program, her future goals in dance and how she has improved over the years.

Here is what she had to say:

When did you get started in theatre?  I started in theatre when I was about 11– it was my first year in SMTI. I had gone to see Follie Holidays the year before and I decided to audition the next year.

How has SMTI helped your theatre skills? It has really opened me up a lot. I’ve gained a lot of confidence through this program. When I first started, I was more of a dancer–because I’ve been dancing since I was three– so I’ve seen myself before, but through SMTI, I realized I can sing and I can do a monologue and speak in front of people, so it’s helped me just open up to everything.

There are quite a few students in SMTI. Do you think you will have any lasting friendships from the program? Most definitely! A lot of the people I’ve met through SMTI I probably wouldn’t have met. One of my best friends lives in Cabot and I probably wouldn’t have met her without this program.

You’ve been rehearsing for last few days for the upcoming performances of Godspell this weekend. What role will you be playing?  I’m mainly a part of the ensemble but I’m in a couple of the dance numbers and am one of the lead vocalists in the Godspell song “By My Side.” In the senior session production, I had a lot of dance solos.

What are some other productions people might have seen you in the last few years? I’ve done all the SMTI shows the last five years– Project elan and Singin’ on a Star were the most recent ones. I’ve also done Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker down at the Robinson Auditorium and I’ve also participated in the Arkansas Festival Ballet productions.

Do you plan on pursuing theatre or dance beyond high school? I plan on going to college [in California] and trying to make it as a dancer because I’ve been doing it my whole life and it’s just something I want to try and do. I’ve recently been taking a lot of hip hop classes, so I’ve been leaning toward that. Dance is my life– it’s what I do.

Are you excited about this weekend’s production? I am. It’s going to be so much fun! Doing the senior show with all of the older kids and then working with the juniors, it’s been such an amazing experience. It’s been an amazing opportunity for me!

Do you plan on being a part of SMTI throughout high school? I’m going to try to do SMTI throughout high school. Beyond that, I’ve thought about being a choreographer like Marisa Kirby– she’s the choreographer for director Nicole Capri. I’ve thought about doing something like that.

Why should young performers interested in theatre be a part of SMTI? It’s an amazing program. It’s a great opportunity for people to come and really work with a really good director and get that experience.

See her in this weekend’s productions of Godspell, alongside many other talented students! Call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 to get your tickets for any one of the performances, which are at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2.

SMTI: Q&A with Instructor Tyler Rosenthal

Tyler Rosenthal

The Summer Musical Theatre Intensive program is still going strong here at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre with dozens of students singing their hearts out and putting their dancing skills to work on a daily basis.

Someone you’ll find behind the keyboard helping students with their vocals is assistant music director Tyler Rosenthal, a SMTI alumni who has been actively involved with The Rep for the last few years.

We had the chance to talk to the senior at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia– who also doubles as a professional photographer (he wears a lot of hats!)– about his theatrical experience, his favorite parts about SMTI and what he hopes student get out of the program.

Here is what he had to say:

When did theatre become a part of your life? I always grew up with my sister going to the theatre. I went to Little Rock Christian High School and she was always involved in the high school productions, so I always went to them and thought, ‘I want to do that someday.’ I started in sixth grade in the high school musical—my first role was in the Sound of Music. And throughout middle school and high school, I was a part of all of the school productions. I did just about every aspect of the shows– I starred in some and casted for a lot of the roles, along with directing, choreographing and helping teach musical parts.

How did you get involved in SMTI? I first auditioned for the SMTI Review the Revue show during my ninth grade year, but I was put on the waitlist. I still wanted to be involved, though, so I ended up doing an internship at the theatre and did the spotlight and helped with sound stuff. After helping backstage with Gridiron later on, they asked me to join Review the Revue— my first SMTI show. I then participated in the next few SMTI shows and then I was asked to perform in the Saints & Sinners event. Anytime Nicole Capri asks back some SMTI alumni, I usually come back and perform.

What are some of your responsibilities as assistant music director? Mark Binns is the music director, so I assist him with whatever he needs help with—from getting everything organized to figuring out what he needs to teach and making sure he meets with all of the students. We will also break off and I’ll take some of the soloists and the trios and work on their parts, teaching them harmonies or vocal techniques. For the actual performances, I am in the band. I play keyboard No. 2, so all of the organ, flute and string sounds are me. I also help cast for the show, so I sit in the auditions where students sing songs from the show and I help match their voice with a good song.

What do you enjoy most about your position? I really like the casting process because I like pairing a specific kind of voice with a particular song, maybe where a student would shine the most. I have one-on-one moments with kids and I love seeing how something clicks in their head, like ‘Oh, I could hit that note.’ That’s fun to see them get something. And, also to see the transformation from day one to the last day when they perform. So many of them have made a complete change– they sound completely different. A lot of these kids come in and aren’t really sure of their talent and then, they get out there and perform in front of all of these people.

What do you hope students are getting out of their experience with SMTI? I hope that they learned a lot about themselves– not just the performer they can be, but also the confidence level they can have and being comfortable in their own skin, especially the SMTI junior session. They’re still in this transition of who they want to be. Some of these kids I performed with were teeny and now they’re huge and their voices are changing. It’s crazy how quick it all happens and so hopefully, they have the confidence in themselves and the ability to relate to other kids their age. There are a huge number of students who pursue performing and I think this is an awesome program to give them special experience in a real equity theatre. There is no other program that really gives you the opportunity to perform on a real stage like this. There is professional lighting, professional sound and a professional band. People who do the actual MainStage shows here are doing this program for them.

Where will we see you after SMTI?  I have one more year of college left and it’ll be a crazy busy year. Hopefully after that, I’ll be back in Little Rock. I could see myself doing photography and communications, but also auditioning for shows when I can. I’m so involved in so many things, but I hope to still be involved in The Rep and SMTI. I still love to be able to have an impact on younger people. I’m excited for the new building [here on Main Street] and the whole educational side. I’m excited to see what opportunities come from that.

Hear some of his piano-playing next weekend’s productions of Godspell, alongside many other talented students! Call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 to get your tickets for any one of the performances, which are at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2.