A guest post by Elise Collins, PAA student and Boettcher Scholar.
My greatest passion is life, observing and experiencing it in all of its teeming and vibrant complexity. Perhaps it is for this reason that I have an intense fervor for performing. Yet such excitement for the miracle of existence did not blossom overnight. It gradually developed over the course of many years, driving me to be involved in Destination Imagination, the Wesley Improv Team for Youth (WITY), French National Honor Society, all theatrical performances at ThunderRidge High School, National Honor Society, dance at the Academy of Theatre Arts, Soul Purpose Youth Choir, puppetry at St. Luke’s UMC, and Girl Scouts, where I recently earned my Gold Award for organizing Improvisation Sensation!, a district-wide improv event for high schoolers. These diverse interests along with a great deal of community service hours helped me decide that I will be double majoring in biology and theatrical performance with the Boettcher Scholarship at CU Boulder this fall. I am so excited to be able to study life from two different perspectives, from a scientific standpoint and through the most complete form of empathy, theatre.
Theatre enables all individuals involved to view life from another’s perspective, giving the audience and the actor an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their world through each performance. One of my absolute favorite theatrical experiences has been participating in the St. Luke’s Performing Arts Academy for five summers. PAA has given me outstanding performance opportunities, the ability to hone my skills, and a supportive community of my peers and performing professionals.
Each production I have participated in through the Performing Arts Academy has left me with wonderful memories and life lessons I shall carry with me for years. I shall never forget my first PAA production. On a whim I decided to sign up for Honk Jr., a musical following the story of the Ugly Duckling. I had the wonderful opportunity to play the antagonist, the Cat, a wonderfully complex villain with a desire to eat the protagonist. I had never portrayed an animal or a villain before, so a mixture of nervous excitement consumed me. Through this production, I began to take new risks, making larger and bolder character choices until I found the expression I desired. This technique in addition to the marvelous direction of the artistic staff led me to discover the wonders of changing one’s physicality. Cats move far differently from the average bipedal and our director encouraged us to personify our animal through our movements. This yet unexplored possibility was exciting and fun to discover. I began to try ‘sneaking’, ‘stalking’, ‘purring’, and ‘pouncing’ to get into character, even lowering my center of gravity to become more catlike. This opened doors for me as a performer because PAA helped me discover that each character has a different physicality, how they hold themselves, walk, and talk, and this can prove instrumental in building a character.
My next experience with PAA was more low key, but no less invaluable. I was a tree. A tree in an adaptation of Into The Woods. One’s first thought might be “So you just stand there…?”, “Is that really a necessary part of the production?”, or “Do you now celebrate arbor day?” To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed, but then the phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors” kept running through my head. I had heard this common maxim countless times, yet I had never comprehended its true meaning. Among my fellow trees, we began to realize how integral our contribution to the production truly was. We were the living scenery, adding character and versatility to an otherwise small space. We knew the show inside and out because our movements guided the other characters’ entrances and exits. Although our arms grew tired and we could recite the entire show by the time it was over, we were proud to know that we were an integral part of the show, because without us actors would have been confused, lacking scenery, and in a show called “Into The…”
I took a break for a couple of years due to schedule conflicts and my summers just felt like they were lacking something. I continued to do theatre through my high school, landing dramatic roles and quirky characters, but it just wasn’t the same. I missed the community I found in PAA and was beginning to doubt my ability to make people laugh. A well known Wicked song states “Some people come into our lives for a reason, to teach us something we must learn”, but in this instance a person didn’t come into my life, it was a show – The Wizard of Oz! Upon looking at the cast list, I received a role I had never anticipated – the Scarecrow. This part along with the wonderful encouragement of the director Terry Dodd and the rest of the artistic staff gave me confidence in my performing abilities again. Their support reminded me that I just needed to tap into that inner comedian each and every one of us contains (You know it’s in you, don’t deny it! It’s that comedian that compels you to make faces in mirrors and crack jokes only you may laugh at.) This show rekindled my passion for performing after quite a spell of doubting myself. Yet it was not just the artistic staff that made the show into the wonderful memory I have today. I was proud to be part of a production with such a strong and dedicated ensemble. Each and every individual did their absolute best and created a wonderful company full of unique and vibrant characters. Even after a couple years of being absent, I was welcomed in again like an old friend, a wonderful feeling. Productions may have an ensemble or a chorus, but PAA created a family.
Establishing a family within two weeks sounds like a daunting task, yet everyone always comes together so effortlessly and quickly. It is astounding to see. I had never realized how quickly the production came together as I did when I portrayed Cinderella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I had felt the time crunch before, but as the title role I felt a new weight of responsibility resting upon my shoulders. This production taught me the necessity of “doing your homework”. In PAA it is essential to remember everything one learns from the day before because that is the only way the production moves forward. I was bombarded with blocking, music, dances, and lines, yet I was determined to conquer all of these before they conquered me. I vowed to come to rehearsal the next day with everything I had learned memorized, having ‘done my homework’, and what a difference it made! This alleviated any stress I was feeling, helped rehearsals run more smoothly, and led to a far more confident performance than would have otherwise occurred. Learning that lesson has assisted me in so many areas of my life, from school to other productions to extracurricular activities. Concluding that show was definitely bittersweet, but I moved forward knowing that I was a better performer and individual for having done it.
My most recent experience with PAA was this summer’s production of Oliver! It was both wonderful and nostalgic since I had loved the show for years but knew this would be my final production with the Performing Arts Academy. I played the Widow Corney, the strict woman who helped run the orphanage with Mr. Bumble. Although my character despised the majority of the other characters in the production, I couldn’t help but feeling proud and grateful for the talents and kindness of my fellow cast members. From the orphans to the named roles to the tech crew, each individual was more than kind to each other and all helped to put on one of my favorite productions to date. We were not just an ensemble or production team, we were a family.
A family normally consists of individuals close to you, your kin, your blood relatives. PAA is family. We are kin. Performance runs hot through our veins. We are together for two weeks, yet connected for years to come. In those two weeks, I always feel totally, utterly, and completely alive. I don’t just get to observe and portray life, I get to live it to the fullest by making friends and pursuing my passion. Thank you Performing Arts Academy for allowing me to know what it feels like to be truly alive.