The Chattanooga Theatre Centre is pleased to introduce its new Adult Academy and two upcoming training opportunities for actors.
Starting next Sunday, August 2, the CTC is conducting two one-week experiences for intensive training in auditioning and character development. Conducted safely away from the pressure of the audition and rehearsal rooms, both on-site workshops offer a comfortable but results-driven environment to develop your skills.
First up is “Best Foot Forward: A Week-Long Audition Techniques Workshop,” set for Sunday, August 2, through Friday, August 7. It’s a chance to break down the audition process and help you learn to get specific.
The workshop will be taught by CTC staff member Scott Dunlap, who will share his own helpful philosophies and insights to make smart, effective choices and experience the confidence that is essential in being cast. Whether it is landing a role at a local theatre, professional gig, or college audition, the class can be tailored to mastering and showcasing your strengths.
Scott will break down the audition process and help you instantly connect to any material. He’ll also cover the essential techniques for auditioning, including cold reads and prepared monologues. You’ll learn to exercise the ability to identify and apply strong, playable objectives and actions in your auditions. Plus, you’ll develop the skills to enhance your ability to take instruction, criticism, and feedback in a positive and professional manner and begin applying direction immediately.
Next up is “Creating a Character: A Week-Long Workshop of Acting Styles,” meeting Sunday, August 9, through Friday, August 14. It’s an opportunity to develop skills in creating characters and understanding different acting styles in order to quickly develop and hone your skills. More advanced actors can learn to challenge themselves and build confidence without the pressure and anxiety of the rehearsal process.
Also taught by Scott, he’ll help you develop skills that boost your confidence in your abilities. Often once cast, the focus becomes about “getting the show done.” Here is a chance to take some time and learn to analyze scripts and understand the different acting techniques required to tell different stories.
Through scene study, you will discover how to break down the story. You will also begin to interpret characters in new ways that will give you the confidence you need to master a role. You’ll enhance your ability to take instruction, criticism, and feedback in a positive and professional manner and begin applying direction immediately.
Both are six-session classes meeting nightly from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Full safety protocols will be followed, including temperature checks before entering the building, masks worn at all times, hand sanitizing at regular intervals, and a cap of 10 students to allow for social distancing.
The fee is $150 for each workshop. Space is limited, so sign up today and take your skills to the next level!
Posted July 27, 2020
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre is moving its entire 2020-2021 season to 2021-2022 in response to the COVID-19 crisis, although the theatre is exploring other performance possibilities in the coming months.
“We’ve made the tough decision to pick up our upcoming season in its entirety and move it a year down the road,” says CTC marketing director Julie Van Valkenburg. “There’s a delicate balance in creating a season, and we didn’t want to cherry pick shows to produce this year and upset that balance.
“Plus, the season was selected before the crisis hit, and the majority of the shows could not be staged with the necessary safety precautions we need for our actors on stage,” she says. “We have to consider the safety not just of our audiences, but of our volunteers on stage and off. So that’s a sacrifice we had to make.”
The season was set to open in September with “The Sound of Music” and end in July 2021 with “Something Rotten,” with musicals like “Little Women” and “The Color Purple” in between. Van Valkenburg says the singing involved with musical productions would put actors at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, which is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets.
Instead, the theatre is looking at opportunities in the fall and winter to produce non-musical plays with small casts that can be produced with social distancing for the safety of the actors, without compromising the artistic integrity of the shows.
“We’re focused on balancing the safety of the live theatre experience with the expectation of quality theatre that the community has come to expect of us,” Van Valkenburg says.
She says the theatre is confident it can exceed recommended standards for the safety of its audiences, including reducing capacity to 33 percent and seating patrons more than six feet apart. Other planned measures include redirecting foot traffic to avoid crowding, conducting temperature checks, instituting no-contact ticketing, requiring masks, and sanitizing before and after performances. The theatre also has touchless faucets, and an HVAC rehab is scheduled.
“We’ll enact those protocols when the time is right, when it’s safe and ethical for us to open our doors again,” Van Valkenburg says.
The CTC is also exploring options for presenting community arts performances on its riverfront lawn.
Posted July 20, 2020
After a spring hunkered down in isolation, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre will help families kick their kids’ summer into high gear with the 2020 Summer Academy, offered July 6 through August 7 in an abbreviated format with strict protocols to ensure a safe environment.
The CTC’s Summer Academy, which traditionally is a two-month program with full-capacity classes, is set for a limited run of five weeks with half-day sessions only in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Classes will be limited to 10 students, with no interaction between classes.
Sessions, typically offered to K-12, will be available to students in grades 4-12 only to ensure compliance with physical distancing.
The first sessions begin July 6, with separate offerings for grades 4-6 and grades 7-12. Other sessions begin July 13, July 27, and August 3.
A slate of 14 classes includes Acting the Script, Acting Fundamentals, Play Writing, Practice to Performance, The Play’s the Thing, Movement for Actors, Theatre Games, Acting Shakespeare, and Acting Through the Ages. Each class’s curriculum lays a foundation and provides opportunities for students to learn and grow in the theatre arts.
To ensure the health and safety of students and staff, the CTC has adopted the following procedures:
Admission to the Summer Academy is by reservation only. Because schedules may be subject to change, advance reservations are required but fee payments will not be due until the first day of class.
The CTC closed its doors March 13 following the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, and the Summer Academy offering to families represents Phase 1 of the theatre’s reopening. Phase 2 is still under development.
For details about Summer Academy curriculum, grade levels, hours, and fees, visit TheatreCentre.com/learn/summer-academy. For more information, email Education Director Chuck Tuttle at [email protected].
Posted June 12, 2020
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre is pleased to announce that Rodney Van Valkenburg, who began his career at the community theatre and comes full circle after a successful 19-year tenure at ArtsBuild, will be joining the CTC as its new Executive Director.
A proven arts leader and enthusiastic cheerleader for the local arts community, Van Valkenburg is currently Vice President of ArtsBuild, where he has focused his work on vigorous arts advocacy, expanded arts access, meaningful arts education programming, and the vitality and growth of arts organizations throughout the area.
Citing the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s 97 years of artistic roots in Chattanooga, Board President Mitch Collins said he looks forward to witnessing the CTC’s continued success under Van Valkenburg’s leadership.
“The CTC search committee did an extensive nationwide search for our new executive director and found him right here at home in Chattanooga,” Collins said. “We were looking for someone with strong theatre experience, community leadership, and innovative thinking to guide us through these challenging times and the next stage of our growth. Rodney embodies that foundational experience in community theatre, is a proven leader in the arts community, and continues to impress us with his next level ideas around the staff, volunteers, patrons, and programs.”
Van Valkenburg, who will assume his new role August 1, said, “I’m honored to join the Theatre Centre’s dedicated family of volunteers, board members, staff, and audiences. Now, more than ever, we need theatre for us to reflect on and process the world around us as well as champion compelling, relevant, and innovative ways to engage our community. The Chattanooga Theatre Centre is a proven, quality-driven arts organization that is well positioned for growth in its deeply rooted commitment to serving Chattanooga with excellence, relevance, and imagination.”
Van Valkenburg has had similar career journeys at the Theatre Centre and ArtsBuild. With both organizations, he was brought on board to develop education programs and progressed to leadership positions. At ArtsBuild, he has served as Interim President, Director of Grants and Initiatives, and Director of Communications and Arts Education. At the CTC, he served as part of a two-person executive team following 13 years as the theatre’s first full-time youth and education director.
In both tenures, he saw the organizations renovate facilities and rebrand from previous entities as Allied Arts and the Little Theatre, respectively.
Van Valkenburg joined the Little Theatre in 1983 and built the fledgling youth program into a national and international model. He chaperoned a group of young people from the theatre to the International Theatre Camp in Narva, Estonia, in the former Soviet Union, as Artistic Director of the camp. He was also recognized as Youth Theatre Director of the Year by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education.
In 1996, he became the CTC’s Director of Programs and shared leadership duties steering the newly renamed Chattanooga Theatre Centre. He remained in that role until joining ArtsBuild in 2001, where he served as Director of Arts Education through 2009.
In that role, he successfully authored an application to the John F. Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program, through which more than 100 teachers continue to receive arts integration professional development each year. More recently, he earned ArtsBuild inclusion in the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child Initiative.
Also at ArtsBuild, he partnered with the Benwood Foundation to develop an Equity in the Arts grant program, secured funding from Usher’s Nancy Lackey Community Education Fund to place artists in schools that do not have visual art teachers, expanded the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, coordinated participation in annual state and national Arts Advocacy Days, engaged over 150 community groups to apply for grant funding, and authored and co-authored successful grant proposals to local, state, and national organizations.
Van Valkenburg has been an Advisory Committee member of the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program and a grant panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
He previously served as an executive committee member of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the largest theatre service organization in the U.S., and is past president and a recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Tennessee Theatre Association.
He earned his MFA in Child Drama from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, and a BFA in Theatre from Indiana University in Indiana, PA.
Founded in 1923, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre is one of the oldest, largest, and longest continuously running community theatres in the country. Its mission is to enrich the cultural, intellectual, and emotional development of people of all ages by providing high-quality theatrical experiences and creating opportunities to engage in them.
Posted May 28, 2020
By Mark Kennedy | Chattanooga Times Free Press
Sometimes fate demands a curtain call.
The cast from the first play ever staged by the Chattanooga Little Theatre — the precursor to today’s Chattanooga Theatre Centre — is memorialized in a 1924 black-and-white photograph that was plucked from a dumpster 70 years later.
As the story goes, a young carpenter, James Bivens, found the vintage photo in a rubbish container during building renovation work at the theater in 1994, and years later — 2017 to be exact — he rediscovered the matted photo at his house and brought it to the theater.
Julie Van Valkenburg, the marketing director at the CTC, remembers the day Bivens arrived with the treasure, which pictures the local cast of “Dear Me,” a comedy that first played on Broadway in 1921. In that era, Little Theatre productions were staged at a former fire hall on Eighth Street.
“He (Bivens) is a bit of a hero to us,” Van Valkenburg said. “I remember the first staff meeting we had after the photo was discovered, everybody was enthralled and delighted. People ate it up.
“Obviously, we’re proud of our history, and to have a 96-year-old photo in our possession — one that captures the first people to bring great theater to our stage and to the community — is a thrill,” Van Valkenburg added.
She immediately placed the photo in a shadowbox and hung it in the lobby of the theater, which will celebrate the centennial of its charter in 2023. The 1924 photograph notes that “Dear Me” debuted here 96 years ago this week.
(Originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press at https://bit.ly/2ZbY79V)
Posted April 25, 2020
A Tony Award-winning musical about a high-spirited governess from an Austrian convent will open the season and a farcical mash-up of 16th century Shakespeare and 21st century Broadway will close it as the Chattanooga Theatre Centre announces its 2020-2021 season.
From Jane Austen to August Wilson, from Disney to Rodgers & Hammerstein, musical crowd-pleasers will be complemented by happy comedies, stirring dramas, and enchanting youth productions as the community theatre, founded in 1923, enters its 97th season.
Here’s a look at the season:
The Sound of Music (September 24-October 11, 2020): This inspirational musical, the final collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein, follows an ebullient postulate who serves as governess to the seven children of the imperious Captain Von Trapp, bringing music and joy to the household. But as the forces of Nazism take hold of Austria, Maria and the Von Trapp family must make a life-altering decision. Featuring a trove of cherished songs, including “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” and the title number, This exhilarating musical has won the hearts of audiences worldwide, earning five Tony Awards and five Oscars. (Appropriate for all ages)
The Witches (October 27-November 8, 2020): Witches absolutely detest children. To a witch, a child smells like dog droppings. And now the Grand High Witch is planning to get rid of every child in England. Can anybody stop them? A boy and his grandmother aim to. But these witches are nothing like the ones who wear pointed hats and fly on broomsticks. They look very much like ordinary women, which helps their deception. This faithful stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic story continues to delight as one of the spookiest children’s books ever more than 30 years after it was published. (Appropriate for all ages.
The Santaland Diaries/Season’s Greetings (November 27-December 19, 2020): Humorist David Sedaris’ irreverent monologue of a would-be actor slaving as an elf in Macy’s department store is a wry, acerbic riff on the commercialization of the season. At first the job is simply humiliating, but then another Santa is ushered into the workshop, one who is different from the lecherous and drunken ones with whom he has had to work. This Santa actually seems to care about the children, startling our hero into an uncharacteristic moment of goodwill, just before his employment runs out. Presented with another monologue, “Season’s Greetings,” a funny, touching—and twisted—take on the season. (Appropriate for mature audiences)
Little Women: The Musical (December 11, 2020-January 3, 2021): This timeless, captivating story is brought to life in this glorious musical filled with personal discovery, heartache, hope, and everlasting love. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved book, this uplifting stage adaptation follows the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested. Her friend, Professor Bhaer, tells her that she has to do better and write more from herself. Begrudgingly taking this advice, Jo weaves the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America in this autobiographical nod to Alcott’s own life. (Appropriate for all ages)
Pride & Prejudice (January 29-February 14, 2021): This isn’t your grandmother’s Jane Austen. Bold, surprising, boisterous, and timely, this stage adaptation for a new era explores the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect—or imperfect—match in life. The outspoken Lizzy Bennet is determined to never marry, despite mounting pressure from society. But can she resist love, especially when that vaguely handsome, mildly amusing, and impossibly aggravating Mr. Darcy keeps popping up at every turn? Because what turns us into greater fools than the high-stakes game of love? Austen’s novel gets a deliciously antic sensibility. (Appropriate for all ages)
The Color Purple: The Musical (February 19-March 7, 2021): This musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the popular 1985 Steven Spielberg film follows the journey of Celie, a downtrodden young African-American woman whose personal awakening over the course of 40 years forms the arc of this epic story. With a joyous score featuring jazz, ragtime, gospel, African music, and blues, it’s a story of hope, a testament to the healing power of love, and a celebration of life. Nominated for 11 Tony Awards and winner in 2015 for Best Revival of a Musical. (Appropriate for mature audiences)
Aladdin Jr. (March 19-28, 2021): Discover “A Whole New World” with this magically updated musical adaptation of the Academy Award-winning Disney classic and 2014 hit Broadway show. Aladdin, a “diamond in the rough” street rat, and his three friends Babkak, Omar and Kassim are down on their luck until Aladdin discovers a magic lamp and a Genie who has the power to grant three wishes. Wanting to earn the respect of the princess Jasmine, Aladdin embarks on an adventure that will test his will and moral character. In the process, he learns that his true worth lies deep within. (Appropriate for all ages)
August: Osage County (April 16-May 2, 2021): A vanished father. A pill-popping mother. Three sisters harboring shady secrets. When the dysfunctional Weston family unexpectedly reunites after Dad disappears, their Oklahoman family homestead explodes in a maelstrom of repressed truths and unsettling secrets. Mix in Violet, the drugged-up, scathingly acidic matriarch, and you’ve got a story that unflinchingly—and uproariously—exposes the dark side of the Midwestern American family. Tracy Letts’ ferociously entertaining play won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. (Appropriate for mature audiences)
The Velveteen Rabbit (May 14-23, 2021): In the world of toys, life begins when humans leave the room. When one group of toys discovers a velveteen rabbit, they learn what it means to be truly loved in this original adaptation of Margery Williams’ timeless tale by CTC Youth Theatre director Scott Dunlap. The rabbit’s quest to become real through the love of a child celebrates the power of love to transform our lives. Join a boy and his rabbit in a world of strange and wonderful magic with talking toys and wild adventures as they come to discover the true meaning of what it is to be real. (Appropriate for all ages)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (June 11-27, 2021): The time is 1927. The place is a run-down recording studio in Chicago. Ma Rainey, the legendary blues singer, is due to arrive with her entourage to cut new sides of old favorites. Waiting for her are her black musician sidemen, the white owner of the record company, and her white manager. What goes down in the session to come is more than music. This work of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle is a riveting portrayal of rage, racism, the self-hate that racism breeds, and racial exploitation. The CTC has committed to produce all 10 plays in Wilson’s cycle over a 10-year period. (Appropriate for mature audiences)
Something Rotten (July 20-August 15, 2021): Two brothers set out to write the world’s first musical in this hilarious mash-up of 16th century Shakespeare and 21st century Broadway. Hailed as “the funniest musical comedy in 400 years,” this outrageous, crowd-pleasing musical farce follows Nick and Nigel Bottom, who are desperate to write a hit play but are stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock star known as “The Bard.” When a local soothsayer foretells that the future of theatre involves singing, dancing, and acting at the same time, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s very first musical. (Rated PG-13)
The Theatre Centre will continue to monitor CDC and city, state, and national public health guidelines during the 2020-2021 season, and precautions will be taken for the safety of all patrons.
The lineup will be offered to season subscribers as a Theatre Connoisseur package to attend all shows, a Classic Series appropriate for all audiences, a Stage Door Series appropriate for mature audiences, a Theatrix offering to patrons age 30 and younger, and Anytime Subscriptions that offer flex options. To subscribe, visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted April 26, 2020
One hundred and twelve kids auditioned last August for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s 2019-2020 season-opening Youth Theatre production of The Lion King. Those numbers come as no surprise to the program’s founder, Sonia Young.
“The Youth Theatre has proven to be exactly what I thought it would be,” she says. “Why wouldn’t it be successful? Kids love to perform!”
That recognition launched a program with a distinguished history of nearly 40 years and a vital presence in the community today.
Sonia, born and raised in Chattanooga, remembers her parents taking her as a child to see shows staged by the Little Theatre at Chattanooga at the firehall downtown. That was before it moved to its current River Street location and later changed its name to the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. Sonia loved the shows and knew she wanted to be a part of it some day.
From a young age, Sonia, fondly known as The Purple Lady, fell in love with the color purple. She says purple represents someone expressive that has a love for the arts, much like herself.
“When you wear purple, you can’t hide. You stand out,” she says.
A framed plaque on a wall in her house describes someone with a purple profile: “You have noble ideals and a keen appreciation of the cultural. You are active in the support of things you believe in.”
Sonia has embodied this profile with her life endeavors and many contributions to the arts. She has helped raise funds to support arts and other organizations and has served on several boards, including the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, the Chattanooga Zoo, McKamey Animal Care Trust, the Theatre Centre, and the Little Theatre before it.
Sonia’s service to the theatre began in the late 1950s after she graduated from Tulane University and returned to Chattanooga, where she married Melvin Young. She soon began volunteering at the theatre.
“I wasn’t good at building sets but volunteered in other areas like acting, helping with costumes, and front of house duties. I love the world of make believe. And theatre people are very welcoming. It was a very close-knit community,” she says.
There was only one thing she noticed the theatre lacked. “In all the years I went to the theatre, there were no children on stage,” she says. “My daughter, Melanie, was one of the first children on stage in the role of one of the children referred to as a ‘no-neck monster’ in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Over the years, the theatre began to offer more opportunities for children as a result of Sonia’s persistent pleas for a youth theatre program. By the spring of 1963, the Little Theatre announced it would sponsor an independent Junior Theatre program, offering two productions for youth from elementary school age through college to be rehearsed and performed through the summer. The theatre also began to offer periodic youth acting classes. And in 1971, Sonia helped Mildred Montague raise the funds to build a new near 200-seat circle theatre, adding a second stage with the intended purpose of offering a space for mostly youth productions.
Even though the theatre continued to offer some youth acting classes and the occasional youth show and summer youth program, Sonia still insisted the theatre needed a permanent youth theatre program.
“The board says if you can raise the funds for it, we’ll do it,” she says. Sonia didn’t waste any time. She got the first check for $5,000 from her father and many more donations like it from friends and others who supported the effort. She began using her moniker, “The Purple Lady,” as a marketing tool to raise funds and interest for the Youth Theatre. culminating with her very own production of The Purple Princess in 1981 in the Circle Theatre.
“I sat down and wrote it in a week,” she says. “We had so many audition, I didn’t want to turn any away. It gave a lot of children a chance to participate in the theatre. Most of the set was donated and a lot of the costumes came out of my own closet, which was all filled with purple. We had six performances over two weekends filled to capacity.”
Sonia and her friend, Sally White, who was the marketing director for the Neiman Marcus store in Atlanta, came up with a fundraising idea called “An Evening of Elegance.” It became an annual event over the next several years to raise funds for the youth theatre. “It made a ton of money for Neiman Marcus and the youth theatre,” she says. “It was like the who’s who of Chattanooga in addition to the guests from Atlanta invited by the Neiman Marcus store.”
By 1983, Sonia had generated enough money to ensure the program’s full-time status with the hire of Rodney Van Valkenburg as the first Youth Theatre director, even arranging for him to be appointed as an artist in residence to the local city and county schools for the first year or two to supplement his salary.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Rodney says of how he became CTC’s first youth director. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, he was completing a Masters of Fine Arts Degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro when he learned of the job.
“I saw the card on the job board at school and somehow got the job with very little experience,” he says. “They took a risk on me and I took a risk on them. My mentor professor didn’t think the job would last, but Sonia did a good job of sustaining it.”
He had taught creative dramatics at the Visual and Performing Arts Center in Greensboro. “Being trained in theatre for young audiences is really my background,” says Rodney. He established the still existing rule of casting fourth grade through twelfth grade students for youth shows based on studies showing that most children begin to show signs of maturity by age ten. He also wanted to have a strong group of high school students participate.
“From the beginning, I had the kids involved in the whole process, backstage and on stage,” he says. “We approached it with the attitude that they are actors, not just kids.” He was determined to have quality productions with most shows being double cast, having two casts of about ten to twelve youth actors.
“I felt that it’s not just an experience for the kids, but for the audience too,” Rodney says. “From the beginning, we did school performances. And we had parents involved who were teachers and we got advice from them about what plays teachers wanted their kids to see.”
During the early years of the youth program, Rodney says, “I directed, designed and built sets, did all the costumes and taught youth classes.” When he arrived in Chattanooga, the Circle Theatre was being used as storage space. They cleared it out and for the next several years, it was mostly used for youth shows.
The first youth show he directed at the CTC was Dracula, The Vampire Play. He recalls, “It was in October near Halloween with mostly a high school cast. That group still meets once a year every year and have remained friends. From them, you can see generations of youth theatre kids go on and on.”
By 1990, the Youth Theatre gained international recognition when the International Arts For Peace, a non-profit dedicated to promoting international understanding through collaborative arts projects, selected it to represent the United States at an international theatre camp festival in Moscow. The camp attracted students from Russia, Soviet Georgia, France, Britain, Italy, and Japan. The CTC’s Youth Theatre was chosen because of its growing reputation of giving quality experiences and opportunities for youth in theatre.
Calling the experience the highlight of his years with the program, Rodney says of the camp: “We did a production of The Wizard of Oz because they wanted something American. The IAP thought the only way for Russia to have peace and change was to experience the arts. The Russians were so intrigued by the group of Chattanooga kids that they invited me back the next year and asked me to be the artistic director for the 1991 camp.”
Rodney returned to Russia with a group of students from Raleigh, North Carolina. The camp proved to be more exciting than they anticipated. “On the second day of the camp, the Russian coup took place,” Rodney says. “Though the camp was actually located in Estonia and we were safe, there were some panicked parents back home because communication lines were down and it was before everyone had cellphones.” The Youth Theatre went on to host a group of Soviet Georgian theatre students in Chattanooga.
Between Sonia’s continued fundraising efforts and the money generated from school performances, the Youth Theatre began to thrive. The program has grown exponentially and so have school audiences. During his 13-year tenure as Youth Theatre director, total attendance grew from 5,000 per season to over 15,000 a season.
Rodney commends the quality theatre “created by kids performed by kids. It feels good when you look at the shows and say that’s good theatre. Not just good children’s theatre, but good theatre.”
Over the years, the Youth Theatre has continued to draw grants, corporate and individual donations, and sponsors such as ArtsBuild, where Rodney now serves as vice president. He was youth director at the CTC up until 1997, then was the CTC’s director of programs until 2001, when he left to work for ArtsBuild. ArtsBuild’s Imagine initiative gives at least one arts experience a year for Hamilton County Schools kindergarten through fourth grade students. The first grade experience is to go to a Youth Theatre show.
“About 80 percent of all first graders will come to see a Youth Theatre show this year,” Rodney says. “It has been a great partnership between us, the theatre, and the schools. There’s this trust relationship between the theatre and the schools, so the teachers know they can take time out from instruction and come see a good show. It’s educationally worthwhile to come here.”
Rodney says, “I can’t imagine anyone questioning the importance of youth theatre today, but back in the day we had to defend it. When I first came here, all the plays were meant to serve adults, but now with the Youth Theatre, it would be difficult to imagine that this theatre would be as vibrant as it is without it. It brings in funding, volunteers, and new audiences. Community theatres like the CTC have to find ways to involve the whole community, which involves young people.”
One of the young people that Rodney remembers as a standout from his first audition was a young teen named Scott Dunlap. “Even in high school, you could tell he was very talented,” Rodney recalls. “The challenge for him was that he lived in Cleveland. I wanted to cast him in bigger parts, but the distance was a problem for him, but he would participate as much as he could acting, helping to build and paint sets, and even making some costume pieces.”
Several years later, he says, “just as I had been in the right place at the right time, I saw Scott walking through the theatre lobby and offered him a job as Youth Theatre production designer. We were looking for people who knew about youth theatre. The people you want working with young people need to engage with them and Scott does that. He’s not only a very talented director, but he appreciates the process of doing the shows.”
Since 2013, Scott has been at the helm of the program, choosing and directing some of his favorite shows each year to give children the opportunity to shine and learn on stage and backstage. This fall he chose Disney’s The Lion King, which packed the mainstage auditorium to near capacity for all six of its public and four school shows selling out for closing weekend.
Scott designed the set and the costumes for the show himself, creating beautiful headdresses to resemble the Broadway version of the show while also bringing to life elements from the original animated film, sparking all the fond memories of those who saw it, reflecting his love of stage and film.
Next, he used a similar approach in directing Mary Poppins, a co-production between youth and adults. His perfectionism is evident with each show he directs, demonstrated in his careful attention to even the smallest detail. Though, most of the set and costumes were rented, Scott designed several additional set pieces and costumes, many of which were nods to the Mary Poppins film, such as Winnifred Banks wearing a “Votes for Women” sash in the opening scene, penguins dancing in “Jolly Holiday,” and even making a replica of the beautiful white dress that Julie Andrews wears in the film version of this scene. Once again, this show was a hit with local audiences, selling out its closing show.
Scott’s journey into theatre began with his first audition at the Little Theatre as a middle school youth in 1987, only four years after Sonia realized her dream of having a full- time youth program. Watching plays filmed live for cable television and movies from the time he was a young child sparked his love of acting and theatre.
Because of Sonia’s strong belief in the merits of a youth theatre program and her Field of Dreams-like philosophy of “if you build it, they will come,” kids like Scott had a place go to develop their talents and still do. When he was in seventh grade, he was given a gift of a season subscription to the theatre. Seeing several shows that year further fueled his keen interest. Little Shop of Horrors was especially memorable to him, not only due to the unique plot of a man-eating plant on stage, but seeing his love of theatre connect to his love of cinema, when he later saw the film version.
After observing a notice for upcoming youth auditions in a playbill at one of these shows, he began asking his mom to go audition. But the time and distance between Cleveland and Chattanooga was a problem. Then one summer, there was an opportunity for him to carpool with one of his mother’s coworkers, whose child was in the same play, The Ransom of Red Chief, directed by Rodney.
Despite the distance challenge, he got involved as much as possible during his high school years, whether it was stage managing or working in the technical crew for shows like Colonel Tom Tennessee’s Marvelous Medicine Show, which told of Tennessee folklore through a medicine show, or acting in Ozma of Oz, which was a sequel to the Wizard of Oz. Rodney immediately noticed Scott’s talent for art and design and asked him to make the mask for The Masque for the Beauty and the Beast.
Scott later pursued a career in theatre by attending the North Carolina School of the Arts, majoring in stage management. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts and graduated in 1996.
He was working with the academy’s acting company when his grandparents’ declining health became a growing issue for his family. He decided to return to Chattanooga to be with his family and help his mother. Soon after he returned was when Rodney offered him a job as youth production designer and technical director. “I felt really blessed that I had this job where I get to design, create art, and still get to act as a volunteer,” says Scott.
Scott has held the position of youth director at CTC for the last six seasons, using his many talents and masterful direction to benefit a new generation of local children, whether they are involved in the youth program learning from him or delighted and inspired as they sit in the audience.
While working on shows he directs, Scott is involved in every aspect including sketching the set designs, creating headpieces from scratch, sewing costumes, and painting set pieces. He says it’s all a kind of engineering, “It all carries over and all of it is connected, whether you’re doing it with pencil, fabric or a saw, the art is all connected.”
Scott says the 1995 expansion of the theatre building and its resources in addition to the advantage of newer technology have allowed for easier prop and production set design. With the beautiful stage sets, the growth of the Youth Theatre has led to more of the youth shows being presented on the mainstage to accommodate the larger audiences.
Scott says one change he’s observed in the Youth Theatre in recent years is the external change of the increased number of commitments the kids have outside the theatre. “They have all these things pulling them in different directions, so the changes have been to try and accommodate for that,” he says. “The other change is the extent you often have go to compete with the fact that the kids have cell phones all the time. But theatre is a craft and you have to learn to adapt to all of this external influence.”
Scott says one of the most fulfilling aspects of being Youth Theatre director are the instances when he learns that there are kids he has helped. “Kids who are shy or awkward in some way, and to learn that their time here has helped them,” he says. The kids involved in each of his shows not only learn the craft of theatre, but he also teaches them how to work together as professionals to put on a professional level show.
Another fulfilling aspect, he says, is “the pride that the kids have after the show. Kids, who may be upset at the role they got or not happy about the initial casting, but by the end of the show are excited and ready for the next one. So, they leave happy because they were on a winning team.”
He adds, “I feel like my goal as Youth Theatre director and the goal at CTC is to give them all the tools to succeed and to raise the expectations of what they can do.”
Scott also says a positive aspect of participating at the CTC is that there are no fees involved, and the theatre provides everything needed for each show at no cost to the actors. “They don’t have to provide the costumes, sets, or props. All of that comes from us and the help of volunteers. So, our expectation is that you put everything you have into learning your lines, blocking, and choreography,” says Scott.
With each show, the kids learn valuable life lessons. Scott says regardless of what future job they may have, “the teamwork they learn here is key. They learn creative problem solving, what to do when things don’t go right. I think another huge skill they learn is cause and effect and ways to prevent something from going wrong that requires you to think ahead. It forces them to be aware of themselves and others and how their actions affect others. This helps them have empathy for their characters and for each other.”
He adds, “Watching them help each other with their lines or helping each other with blocking or choreography, when someone has missed a rehearsal and the kindness in which they do that is inspiring. Taking the initiative to rehearse on their own to make things better, I see them do that when they take breaks and I love that. All of that, is cause and effect and problem solving, which we need in the adult world. So, I hope we’re making better adults or at least adults who are more conscious of each other.”
Scott says his hope for the future of the Youth Theatre is simply larger audiences. He says, “It has grown by leaps and bounds in attendance over the years, but I really would like to see more people seeing the shows,” he says. “The recognition and validation the kids get from the audience at a show, especially when the show sells out, that’s the biggest deal to them.”
Following the first school performance of Mary Poppins, Scott gave some encouraging words to his cast that said a lot about the incredible impact of youth theatre that Sonia knew it would have and why she worked so hard to make it happen.
Scott told them: “Congratulations! Today you all changed a life. Some child, or many, sat in awe and experienced a live performance, perhaps for the first time. This child might become the next Broadway hoofer or Hollywood star, but their journey started here today. They were enraptured as you tapped and sang and ‘magicked’ for them, and now you have inspired them to start jumping off the living room furniture with an umbrella or making silly faces in the mirror, taking dance classes or singing with all their heart. And it’s because you took time out of your day to show them how beautiful life can be. Some saw lights and sets and costumes and want to make their own. And if we didn’t inspire them to do it themselves, hopefully we have inspired them to be future audience members. They will forever have a story of their school going to see you in a performance of Mary Poppins, and someone in the audience was watching you and you were their favorite. They saw themselves in you, in some way, We all have a story like this that inspired us to become the artists we are, and now we have passed the torch. Whenever I feel down and wonder ‘why on earth do we do this,’ this is what keeps me going, and I hope it helps you on these early mornings of school shows. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for inspiring others!”
By Tammy Knotts | Writer & CTC Parent Volunteer
Posted April 8, 2020
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre will offer three new sessions during its annual Summer Academy for rising kindergartners through 12th graders.
In “The Greatest Show,” young people will be assigned to teams to act as playwrights, directors, choreographers, actors, designers and stage crew in creating a 15-minute musical. The final productions will be adjudicated to see which one is “the greatest show.” The session is designed for grades 4 to 12.
Also new to the summer lineup, “Singing for Musicals” will pair participants with a musical director and a song styling coach to learn how to make their singing dynamic and emotional. Two age-appropriate sessions are designed for grades 4 to 12.
Another new session, a puppetry workshop, will direct young people in grades 4 to 6 in using papier-mache to create a hand puppet, then show it off in a short puppet play created by the class.
One-, two- and three-week Summer Academy sessions run from June 1 to August 7. The Summer Academy offers 20 different classes in storytelling, acting and dance to build understanding and enjoyment of theatre.
For more information or to register, call 423.267.8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted March 10, 2020
In celebration of World Puppet Day, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre will hold a hands-on “playshop” on Saturday, March 21, for participants to learn some of the basics of puppet performance.
The playshop is designed for participants of all ages to try various types of puppets with which to practice their skills.The workshop will be led by puppet artist T.J. Hanretta, who created puppets and headdresses for the CTC’s recent youth production of “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.”
The playshop will take place from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and is free of charge.
For more information, call the box office at 423-267-8534.
There’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of young love, new marriage, and your very own apartment five flights up in 1960’s New York City. After a breezy honeymoon, Paul and Corie Bratter settle down to some rocky happily-ever-aftering in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s upcoming production of Neil Simon’s romantic comedy BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.
The show, rescheduled from its original dates in March due to the coronavirus crisis, opens Friday, June 5, and runs through Sunday, June 21.
Simon’s second Broadway hit, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK opened in 1963 and ran for 1,530 performances, winning a Tony Award for director Mike Nichols. Heartfelt and hilarious, the play firmly established Simon as a master of comedy with his sharp wit, firm structure, and vivid characterizations of middle-class urban dwellers.
In 1967, BAREFOOT was adapted for the big screen, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. It saw a successful Broadway revival in 2006. Simon died in 2018 with a well-earned reputation as America’s most commercially successful playwright.
Set in the 1960’s, the comedy follows a free-spirited bride and her buttoned-down groom who are newlyweds in every sense of the word. He’s a serious young lawyer and she’s an impulsive young housewife. After a six-day honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel, they settle down in a sparse apartment on the top floor of a New York City brownstone. (The exhausting stairs to the fifth-floor walkup are a running joke in the play.)
Corie thinks their tiny apartment is perfect, but with bad plumbing, a closet for a bedroom, a leak in the skylight, and an unexpected rooftop neighbor, anything that can go wrong invariably does.
When they get a surprise visit from Corie’s loopy mother, Corie decides to play matchmaker during a dinner with the eccentric neighbor, a scheme which Paul thinks is doomed from the start.
In the process, the newlyweds discover that marriage is no walk in the park. Corie wants Paul to be a little more spontaneous, and running “barefoot in the park” would be a start.
The Theatre Centre production features CTC newcomer Erin Skelley Holderman as Corie and Jeremy Campbell as Paul. Julie Van Valkenburg portrays the well-meaning mother, James Lawson is the colorful neighbor in the attic, and Hayley Graham Duncan takes a comic turn as a telephone installer.
With a distinctly Sixties personality, the production will feature set design by Adam Miecielica and costume design by Scott Dunlap and Chelsea Weiss. Dunlap is also the director, and Angie Griffin is the stage manager.
For tickets, call the CTC box office at 423-267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted March 6, 2020
Fans of Agatha Christie murder mysteries may not have seen the hidden gem coming up at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, so Christie’s THE HOLLOW, a lesser known but cleverly crafted thriller, will give audiences a seemingly brand new offering from the long heralded queen of mystery.
The production, rescheduled from its original dates in March due to the coronavirus crisis, opens Thursday, June 4, and runs through Sunday, June 14.
Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, with sales of her novels reaching more than two billion. In the 1930s, she began adapting her stories for the stage and became a record-breaking playwright. The London production of THE MOUSETRAP is the longest continuously running play in history, now in its 68th year. THE HOLLOW is based on her 1946 book of the same name and was first produced on stage in 1951.
As the story goes, a weekend gathering goes deathly awry as an unhappy game of romantic follow-the-leader explodes into murder at The Hollow, the English country home of Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell just outside of London.
John Cristow is at the center of the trouble when, assembled in one place, we find his dull but devoted wife Gerda, his mistress Henrietta, and his former lover and film star Veronica, all of whom have smoldering desires for him. As the list of romantic associations grows, so does the list of potential suspects when someone is suddenly murdered. Nearly everyone has a motive but only one of them did the deed.
The critical reception of THE HOLLOW, while readily branding it a crowd-pleaser, suggests it is particularly rich in character development. We have genial host Sir Henry (played by Tim Newland) and his eccentric wife Lucy (Deb Meeks), arguably Christie’s finest comic grande dame.
Visiting are several cousins from different sides of the Angkatell family. Reserved Edward (Corey Simpson), the rich owner of the family estate where they frolicked in their youth, is in love with Henrietta (Annie Collins), a cool and confident sculptor whose affections lie elsewhere. Midge (Tia Strickland), a less affluent and often overlooked cousin who has to work for a living, doesn’t even see the point of confessing her love for Edward.
Increasing the tension are Dr. Cristow (Jason Russell), a successful but somewhat misanthropic doctor, and his socially awkward wife Gerda (Lindsey Wills), who everyone thinks of as dimwitted. A new neighbor turns out to be a glamorous movie star, Veronica (Johanna Fredrickson), who has a history with John.
It is the charming Inspector Colquhoun (Dana Rogers) and his down-to-earth assistant Sergeant Penny (Christian Smith) who must try to follow Christie’s well-crafted twists and turns to unmask the killer. Also hanging around in case we need any more suspects are the officious butler Gudgeon (Patrick Sweetman) and housemaid Doris (Haylee Meyer).
The cast of 12 veterans and newcomers to the CTC stage is under the helm of guest director Bob Willie. Rodney Strong is the stage manager, and Brittany Rogers is the assistant stage manager.
For tickets, call the CTC box office at 423-267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted February 26, 2020