Lucinda Merry-Browne, Compass Rose’s founding artistic director, created the Young Actors Studio in 2012 to train and provide acting opportunities for children and teenagers in and around Annapolis. Students are selected by audition; those who are accepted commit to a year at Compass Rose, where they take classes in voice, diction, technical theater instruction and acting; apprentice with professional shows; and have four opportunities to perform during the year. The only requirement is that they sign a pledge, promising to miss no more than two rehearsals all year.
“When you’re working with young people, as high as you raise that bar, they’re going to reach that bar,” she said of Compass Rose’s expectations for the students. “We put that bar way up there. . . . And kids will rise to the occasion if you give them the opportunity.”
She does not charge students to participate in the Young Actors Studio. “It’s not pay to play,” she said. “To me, that sets up the wrong dynamic.”
“There’s something about kids who want to be there,” said Lynne Childress, co-director of “The Little Prince.” “They auditioned, they signed a contract. It’s not a situation where a mom wanted her kid to go to drama camp — which is good, too, you find some jewels that way. . . . But this is what they want to do. And the things that they come up with, because they want to be there, is amazing.”
Rehearsals are three to four times a week, for four hours on weekends. “They could be doing anything else, and they’re here doing this,” Childress said. “That’s commitment.”
In the week between casting and rehearsals, Childress said, the boy playing the Little Prince scheduled, on his own, “one-on-one rehearsals with the kid who is playing the Aviator, and he’d done phone prep with other kids, too. We knew nothing about it. . . . And I don’t know a lot of adult actors who have that kind of commitment to being that prepared, before he even got here.”
Some of the actors in “The Little Prince” have participated in and are auditioning for the professional shows on the Compass Rose main stage, roles for which they’re compensated. (Real-life siblings Maggie and Casey Baum, who are in “The Little Prince” cast, played Scout and Jem Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”) Students in the Young Actors Studio are not paid but don’t pay to participate, either.
Although rehearsals do include some educational components, such as theater games, “they’re learning to be professionals,” Childress said. The nine-member cast ranges in age from 9 to 17, so “more than anything else, you don’t want to stomp their spirit of contribution,” she said, which is why this process “has really been a collaboration.”
Friday-Sunday, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis,
Bigger is better at Olney
Stephen Nachamie has directed at Olney Theatre Center before. He helmed “1776,” “Camelot” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” They were, he said “pretty big” shows. But none was as big as “A Chorus Line.” With 24 performers and eight musicians, “A Chorus Line” is the largest musical Olney has ever produced.
That means everybody had better be on the same page. “As a director, it’s about making sure the audience’s eye is where it needs to be,” he said. “But also making sure that there’s a truth being told the whole show.” The ideal, he said, is to create so many vivid individuals that audience members can all be rooting for different characters while still following the through line that connects them all to this time and place.
Nachamie, who is also the show’s choreographer, said he has to remind the performers what things were like in 1974, “that pre-Oprah, pre-individual” time, when talking about your innermost hopes, fears and insecurities was “groundbreaking and nerve-racking. That you’re talking about yourself for the first time. [I’m] taking the current generation back to a generation where everything was said for the first time.”
Actors have “a leg up” when it comes to a show like “A Chorus Line,” he said. “You’re not asking them to create a world that doesn’t exist. It’s dancers wearing what they wear, doing what they do where they do it. And it’s a reality we know a lot about: putting yourself on the line.” Nachamie’s job, he said, is to guide the actors to “look inside themselves and see the truth in the situation.”
Although the show is familiar to audiences, Nachamie thinks our collective cultural memory is a bit selective. “I think a lot of people remember the finale, great dancing and great singing,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of people realize, when they come to see it, that this is a business. . . . The cold, hard fact is, you can’t hire everyone. And I think people tend to forget that it’s a business when they see it. And they look at the director, going, why is he being so mean?”
The way Nachamie sees it, this is a job interview like any other. Nothing personal. Except, that is, for the fact that the performing arts are intensely, inevitably personal.
“Theater and dance is where you’re your own CEO and your body is your own product and instrument,” he said. “The interesting thing about the theater business and the dance world is that our identity is so entangled in what we do. Who we are is so entangled in the work we do.”
Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, 301-924-3400, olneytheatre.org.