While some schools across the nation cut fine arts programs, one local university is making efforts to enrich not only its fine arts programs, but also other Ohio Valley schools' programs. With strong efforts to increase interest in theater and students' theatrical abilities, Michael Aulick, director and associate professor of fine arts at West Liberty University, has teamed up with Brooke High School to present Thornton Wilder's "Our Town."
In opening its 2010-11 season, the West Liberty University Hilltop Players will perform "Our Town" at Kelly Theater on campus at 7:30 p.m Thursday Oct. 14; Friday, Oct. 15; Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 21-23 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24.
This collaborative project began last year, when Aulick provided a workshop for the students at Brooke High School. Nicholas Taylor, choir director at Brooke High School and a West Liberty University alumnus, felt his students needed additional guidance in theater education; therefore, he jumped at the opportunity to work with Aulick, who was offering to work with the region's high schools - for free!
Mike Aulick, director, works with Brooke High School
Reitter, and Brooke High School senior, Nick Oliveria, for the upcoming
production of “Our Town.”
"Because the majority of my education at West Liberty was music, I didn't get to study as much theater as I would've liked," Taylor said. "The spring musical at Brooke was a massive undertaking, and I wanted my students to have a much better stage presence. So I call Mr. Aulick, who was very gracious and agreed to work with my students."
After discussing various concerns, benefits and ideas, Aulick and Taylor combined their goal to give the students a theater workshop.
"The one I did for Nick (Taylor) was a basic acting workshop, 'What Is the Fundamental Principle of Acting,'" Aulick said. "We discussed the way to approach a role and did some 'games' that demonstrated how the technique is applied."
"It was not only a lot fun, but also it was really informative," said Brooke sophomore Kassidi Reitter who plays Emily Webb. "It helped me feel a lot more comfortable on stage."
"Also, the workshop focused on timing," said Brooke senior Nick Oliveria who plays George Gibbs. "I feel more relaxed helping others on stage if one of us is stuck on a line."
However, the collaboration of the two schools not only fortified the students' theater knowledge, but also encouraged them to try out for "Our Town." After auditioning and making the cast, Oliveria, Reitter and Cliff Welch, senior at Brooke High School, found themselves learning even more while working alongside an experienced cast, with actors such as WLU students Derek Park who plays Dr. Gibbs, Jennifer Saling who plays Samantha Craig and Kassidy Wells who plays the Stage Manager.
Both Park and Saling agree that it's "great to see people that young interested in theater."
"I love working with the different age groups," Park said. "I love experiencing the different levels of acting and encouraging them in their performance."
Additionally, the show has given younger actors, such as West Liberty Elementary students Lindsey Byhanna who portrays a townsperson, Maguire Glass who plays Wally Webb, Logan Hudson who plays Joe Crowell and Warwood Middle School student Tyler Byhanna who plays Si Crowell, the chance to participate and further their talents.
Though it is all their first time acting with the Hilltop Players, they each believe it is "great working with everyone, and it's a great new experience."
"It really shows a new dimension to acting," Glass said.
While having a huge cast can be extremely hectic and overwhelming at times, no one on the West Liberty staff would change a thing. "'I love that the young children are getting involved," Wells said. "These young actors and actresses are learning valuable skills that they can apply to their everyday lives, in and out of the classroom. They all have so much talent and potential; I wish I would have started theater that young."
"It's very different, and it can be challenging," said Spencer Thomas, who stage manages the production. "However, it's interesting to work with a broader range of talent than just college students."
"These kids have been wonderful," Aulick said. "I love working with anyone who is interested in doing a great show and interested in learning how they can do it better. The kids and students have taken direction well and really try to apply it to their work."
And so, while this project germinated from a free workshop, Taylor and Aulick hope other schools will take the same chance to enrich their students with knowledge, skills and opportunities available in fine arts programs.
"This joining of schools shows that we as a university are dedicated to connecting with the community," Thomas said. "We, as a program, can keep it to ourselves and say, 'Wait till you come here to learn,' but instead we are giving those young budding actors and actresses a head start in developing their skills. We, as a program, are serious about arts and theater, and hopefully the region's schools will take the opportunities the university is providing."
"I will continue to ask high school programs if we can be of service," Aulick said. "I hope this show is successful enough that other schools think, 'I want to do this.' Ultimately, I hope we can support and/or assist all of the region's high school programs so they grow and continue to train theater artists."
He added, "One way to encourage such growth is to have the community support this collaboration by making plans to come and see the region's students work as they bring Thornton Wilder's play to the stage."
Other cast members include Megan Fahey as Julia Gibbs, Faith Richter as Rebecca Gibbs, Doug Gouldsberry as Charles Webb, Rick Call as Professor Willard, Karissa Martin as Myrtle Webb, Tony Shillingburg as Constable Warren, Alan Olson as Joe Stoddard, Kari Kolopajlo as Mrs. Soames, Cassie Hackbart as Harriet Newsome, Tiffani Atkins, Rita Moses, Abbie Merryman, Riley Lynn Bonar, Haley Veronda, Rose Russell, Barbie Paul, Chris Hardy, Michelle Christy, Eric Tennant and David Dudzik.
Admission rates for "Our Town" are reduced for seniors, university employees, students from other schools and for current university students with ID. For tickets, call the box office at 304-336-8277.