August 13, 2015 by Michelle Genz, VeroBeach 32963
With summer camp over at Riverside Children’s Theatre, there was one youthful contingent that looked particularly happy to stay on. A half-dozen recent college graduates with theater degrees had defied the odds and found jobs in their field. They all won auditions to spend a year as Riverside performance apprentices.
The program, begun three years ago, sends interns out into the community to stage short plays for children in schools and elsewhere.
This year, that program has doubled to six and for good reason: Come September, the group will perform as the entire cast of Riverside’s Main Stage production of “Poodleful.”
That show will mark the debut of a significant new thrust for Riverside: creating and staging original plays for young audiences, performed by adults. From script to stage, “Poodleful” is Riverside’s, and there are hopes that the series will generate royalties, too, when it is one day produced by other theaters or schools.
“The theater keeps expanding, and we need to think of ways to keep expanding,” says Oscar Sales, Riverside marketing director. “‘Poodleful’ is the first of a series that continues to grow. If the series continues as planned, next year we’ll have two shows.”
The musical is breaking new ground beyond its originality. After its premiere at Riverside Sept. 18, the show will move to Stuart’s Lyric Theatre Sept. 25.
That will be the first time in memory that a Main Stage production has toured in the area.
To give Vero’s seasonal residents a chance to see the production, “Poodleful” will return to Riverside in February.
“Poodleful” was written by Riverside’s executive director Allen Cornell and musical director Ken Clifton, and is based on a children’s book of Windsor resident and avid Riverside supporter Cynthia Bardes.
“They’re wonderful actors with great skills and voices,” says Bardes, reached in East Hampton where she was doing a book signing at a children’s fair.
Under the new “performance apprentice” title, the young actors will also take part in the production of “Hello, Dolly” in March.
First, though, following “Poodleful,” they’ll break up into teams of three to perform two shows for kids: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and “The Tiger Who Went to Tea.” By year’s end, they will have performed before 10,000 school-aged kids in at least two counties – Indian River and St. Lucie.
As they learn lines for those shows and “Poodleful,” the process is made easier by the fact that they are all moving into the same big house, a downtown property owned by Riverside.
Three of the interns arrived at the beginning of June and helped out with the summer camp kids.
Last week, they gathered in a front office to go over their plans, the camp veterans laughing that this was the same space they used to escape the chaos of Kindercamp – the four- to six-year-olds.
“Oh they’re all big huggers,” says Ian Thompson, for whom RCT’s summer program was his first experience at teaching. “Sometimes we’d have to just pry them off and distract them. They don’t really understand acting yet, they just understand imagining.”
Ian, a New Jersey native and graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina, was getting a taste of the frenetic pace of life as an actor. He graduated May 17, packed up and moved his stuff back north, then ten days later, moved to Vero.
He arrived along with two other interns: Katherine Hintz, a graduate of Samford University in Alabama, and Kelsey Flannery, who went to Morehead State University in Kentucky. All were selected by Riverside managing director Jon Moses at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in March, where each year thousands of aspiring theater professionals circulate their CVs and audition.
Two others joined the group in July. Katie Keller, who studied at Texas Christian University, is a Fort Lauderdale native whose grandmother Shirley Powers, lives in Vero. Expecting to move to Los Angeles to study film, on whim, she auditioned at Riverside along with several hundred actors when the theater hosted the Florida Professional Theaters Association in May.
As Katie was scouring a table to see if her audition number had been noted by any of the theaters, she found out one had noticed her: Riverside.
“Ken (Clifton) came after me and called me into Allen’s office,” she says. “They asked me to sing in different voices, like, Can you sing like Ariel? Can you sing like a pop princess? Now can you sound young, like, naïve and starry-eyed?’“
Katie was cast as the little girl in “Poodleful.”
Samantha Cho Grossman, who graduated from Pace University in New York, will play Pansy the poodle.
The rest play multiple roles, including Sean Potter, another Pace graduate and the last to arrive.
Katherine, who had spent a semester at The Second City in Chicago, expected to move back to Chicago after graduation and look for jobs. Before the move, though, she travelled to the theater conference to take classes. While there, she decided to audition, and ended up with a couple of call-backs asking her to apply for internships; one was Riverside. She is elated.
At the same conference, Kelsey went to “as many auditions as possible,” particularly around the Cincinnati area, near her home of Lexington, KY. “I was just hoping and praying” the Riverside job came through, she recalls; she and several of the interns agreed that Riverside’s reputation is excellent among actors. “They treat their actors really well. None of the other companies even compare,” she says.
That good treatment began immediately after they arrived in Vero. “We’re just apprentices, but they’ve given us so much hospitality,” says Katherine. “They’re very welcoming – they’ve invited us into their family.”
Meanwhile, their parents are still having trouble grasping their kids’ good fortune – and paychecks. “This is good for rubbing noses in,” says Katherine. “I know econ majors that don’t have a job, and here I am getting paid and living rent-free.”
When Kelsey’s mom learned the internship involved teaching, she asked if there was tenure.
“It’s hard for people who don’t know the industry to imagine what our day-to-day lives are,” she says.
Asked what happens when the year is up, the bright faces dimmed, if briefly.
“Maybe they’ll hire us next year,” says Ian brightly.
“Yeah,” adds Kelsey. “We might get tenure.”