Flat Rock YouTheatre
Hendersonville’s YouTheatre puts children’s dramatic skills to use with regular stage productions.
Ten small children festooned with various versions of ears and tails transform themselves into Bremen Town Musicians, complete with robbers. They supply the sound effects. The audience (parents, grandparents, and siblings) is wildly enthusiastic. YouTheatre’s teacher Tania Battista exudes energy and warmth.
Battista has only had this group of children for five days in one of the summer morning drama camps, but their performance demonstrates that they have learned quickly.
Energetic, creative games teach young students what it means to work as a team, to express emotions with their faces and voices, to be able to speak with pride and confidence. Battista emphasizes the importance of helping young people value their uniqueness as well as how they can contribute to the community.
“Our main focus is not to create professional actors, but to create better citizens, better people,” said Charles Holland, education center administrator for YouTheatre.
During the school year of 2009-10, a group of high school students in the conservatory program of YouTheatre spent months interviewing and getting to know residents of a local nursing home. They learned the stories and songs of a World War II generation. They wrote their own script and songs, incorporating all of the material into a play called “13 Letters” that was produced in the spring of 2010.
YouTheatre is part of Flat Rock Playhouse, which traces its origins to the 1930s when a group of performers under Robroy Farquhar organized under the name Vagabond Players. The players produced a series of plays in an old grist mill not far from the present theatre. After WWII, they returned and established a playhouse. Their summer theater performances thrived and in 1952 they formally organized and bought property near the village of Flat Rock near Hendersonville, N.C.
By 1961, the playhouse was so successful that the N.C. General Assembly designated it as the State Theatre of North Carolina. Early on, the playhouse offered summer classes for children. In 1993, the Children’s Theatre had become the Theatre for Young People.
In 2005, the program was re-named YouTheatre and by 2007, it had a handsome new facility called the Robin R. Farquhar Education Center. The $2.3 million dollar facility houses dance and music studios, classrooms for acting and directing classes, studios for arts and technical training, and a theatre called the “Blue Room” where class performances can take place. The Center offers year round programming with summer camps in the morning for K-5 and day camps for teens.
In 2009 Vincent Marini came to Flat Rock as executive director. Marini had developed and run a thriving theatre company in his New Jersey hometown, just outside of Philadelphia.
Marini grew up as a soccer player in a sports-minded family, but he and a friend noticed that their middle school’s show choir included some pretty girls. He became a member of that choir and developed a love for theatre in general and especially musical theatre.
With his arrival, Marini and the YouTheatre staff began to re-envision the program. One of Marini’s innovations was to create a Mac Room where students can learn, among other techniques, to create their own movies with claymation. In the art studio, they build the figures, create the backdrops. They put the movie together with music and story line as well as doing all the photography.
A curriculum for the school year is now being developed which allows students to have a varied experience as they move up through the grades. In addition, there are performance groups and advanced theatre groups for which young artists may audition. Performance groups will include a show choir, a rock band, and a group of elementary school students called “Rising Stars.” There are also two theatre groups “The Company” (grades 7-12) and “The Conservatory” (grades 9-12) for students who want to pursue acting on a more advanced level.
For more information on YouTheatre, contact Charles Holland, education center administrator at 828.693.3517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other youth theatre programs in the mountain region
- First Stage Youth Theatre, based in Mars Hill, offers summer drama camps for ages 8 to 18. During the academic year, it offers after school theatre programs at two elementary schools and a middle school. Class Act is a small traveling troupe of student actors. First Stage also sponsors a playwriting competition for students and produces the winning plays, one by a middle school and one by a high school student. Although First Stage has many students from outside the area, the focus is on Madison County and getting parents and students excited about what theatre can offer. www.firststageyouththeatre.com
- Tanglewood Youth Theatre, part of Asheville Community Theatre, offers summer drama camps as well as after-school theatre classes during the academic year. There will be three drama courses, each ending with a production. The first of these productions in the fall will be “Alice in Wonderland, Jr.” www.ashevilletheatre.org.
- Children’s Theatre of Knoxville offers an array of summer camps for children 6 and up including after-school classes during the school year. CTK also produces shows for families in which the actors are primarily children as well as a second category of plays in which young actors may audition for roles and work alongside adult actors. www.childrenstheatreknoxville.com