Working with children during a theatrical performance can be like flipping a double-sided coin, said Oklahoma City director Stephen Hilton.
On one side, theyre very free, very flexible and very energetic, Hilton said. On the other side, theyre very free, very flexible and very energetic.
He channels those energies into magic as Lyric Theatres Thelma Gaylord Academy presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday at Lyrics Plaza Theatre.
Founded in 2001, the academy provides training and performance opportunities for young thespians interested in musical theater, and Dreamcoat, the latest in a full slate of productions this season, has become one of its most ambitious projects in recent memory.
Ive got a lot more people in the show than most productions have, Hilton said. We have 65 students in the show. The script doesnt call for near that many, but thats very exciting to have that many bodies onstage, especially for a stage thats relatively small.Hilton said he considers teaching and directing the young throng of actors an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
Im able to utilize them in several different ways now, he said. One of the main characters in the show is the narrator and I actually have six different girls that are doing the narrator for me any of which couldve done the whole show by herself.
Great pretendersHilton also said theres an innocence in Dreamcoat that lends itself well to youth performances. A retelling of the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, Dreamcoat is a sugarcoated musical journey through country, calypso and even bubblegum pop. Hilton thinks older, more calloused actors could have trouble slipping into some of the plays sillier scenes without being self-conscious.
A cast of young actors still knows how to play, Hilton said. These kids still have an innocence about them that makes a show like Dreamcoat somehow more accessible, more real.
Hilton believes their youth is an asset to a show like Dreamcoat.
A cast of young actors still knows how to pretend. When theyre up there being guards for Pharaoh, theyre actually guards, he said. I dont have to teach them how to act like guards, because theyre not acting, not in their minds. Theyre being guards. Theres a certain freedom in working with that.
Hilton also said the freedom a kid can contribute to a performance is especially suited for a show like this one. In one scene, for example, when Joseph sings, I dreamed that in the fields one day / The corn gave me a sign / Your 11 sheaves of corn / All turned and bowed to mine, girls dressed as sheaths of corn appear onstage and dance.
That might not work with an adult cast, Hilton said. But so much of Dreamcoat is innocent, very simplistic. So when you hear the corn line and see these little girls theres a perfect synthesis of childlike innocence with the telling of that story.
Leading, learningLike all good performances, however, Dreamcoat isnt all rainbows and chocolate drops. Hilton said working with actors of varying ages also gives him certain advantages when casting.
My two Josephs are just phenomenal. Both of them are sort of veteran performers around here. I think the great thing about working at the Gaylord Academy is that I have a lot of students whove never done a show before and a number of them who are very experienced, he said. So, not only can those more experienced kids bring a kind of gravitas to a role that you wouldnt necessarily expect a student actor to have, but when you have them all onstage together, the younger ones learn by watching the older ones.
Theyll have several chances to learn this year. After Dreamcoat, Hilton and company dont slow down. Productions of The Women by Clare Booth Luce, Lillian Hellmans The Childrens Hour and The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) are on tap for audiences this season.
The Gaylord Academy also will stage the large-scale revue I Wish, a musical adventure through songs [they] wish [they] could get the rights for, Hilton said.
Were also premiering 21 Chump Street, based on an NPR story about an inner-city school in New York. Were doing the school edition of Rent with the older kids. Then, of course, we have our summer camps, Hilton said. So it just goes on and on.
Visit thelmagaylordacademy.com for more information.
Print Headline; Biblical alchemy, Youthful energy and creativity combine for a magical production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.