The mission statement for Penobscot Theatre Company’s Education Department states the following “PTC’s Dramatic Academy is committed to providing students of all ages a training ground to explore the performing arts. Through collaboration with professionally trained instructors we strive to foster learning, growth, and skill acquisition amongst our students. In doing so, we look to build a greater community and inspire a lifelong love of theater.” It is with great pride that we here at PTC would like to share with you a great success story. Former Dramatic Academy student Emma Howard, a Bangor native and local high school student, has put her training to use and makes her main stage debut as a professional actress in our current production of WIT. Emma has been involved with PTC’s educational programming since fourth grade. She is also our youngest season subscriber and an active member of our Teen Council. We asked Emma a few questions about her many experiences at PTC:
What has it been like to perform in your first professional show?
The experience has been indescribable. We put a lot of time and energy into this but I’ve enjoyed it so much that it hasn’t felt like work at all. Usually by the time I start tech for a show I’m so rundown that I dread coming to a rehearsal that will take up my entire weekend, but this wasn’t like that at all. Before I started the show I was a little apprehensive about the time commitment, but now I find that whenever we have days off I just sit at home missing my cast and wishing I were back at the theatre. Working in a professional show has been unlike any other theatre experience I’ve had. It’s not just due to the fact that I’m working with adults, because I’ve acted with adults before, but this is the most devoted cast I’ve ever been a part of. Months before we even had our first rehearsal, people were doing cancer research, reading about John Donne, and emailing back and forth to discuss new thoughts and discoveries. At the first rehearsal, Sarah was practically off-book. Since people did so much work outside of rehearsal we didn’t need to waste any time drilling lines or focusing on something that wasn’t pertinent to the entire show and the entire cast. So we made valuable use of our time during every rehearsal. In high school shows, most rehearsals are devoted solely to blocking, running lines, and re-blocking the scenes that everyone has forgotten about. Despite the fact that this show went up in half the time I usually spend on a show, we spent the first three rehearsals doing nothing but dissecting the text and having an in-depth discussion about the show. And we were never short on time. We shared ideas about the characters and themes of Wit, as well as the dramaturgical aspects of the play. We even took an evening to visit the hospital and talk with doctors and nurses so we could get feedback from them about what it’s truly like to be involved with these kind of experiences. Then we could apply it to our characters and have a better understanding of the play as a whole. I had never done this kind of work for a show before, but I think it was an integral part of our preparation, and I wish that every cast could devote so much to a show. Everyone was extremely committed to their work and took it seriously, but we also had a great time doing it and had fun together. People did a lot of individual work for their characters, but there wasn’t one person who put himself above anyone else in the cast. I was surprised at how included I felt even though I was “just in the ensemble,” as I described my role at first. Every single person was encouraged to share any thoughts or concerns and we all contributed. When Kappy said that each person in the cast was equally as important as anyone else, she meant it; everyone had to work with everyone else to create such a beautiful ensemble piece. It’s been wonderful to work with a group of such kind, brilliant professionals.
What turned you on to theater, and what prepared you to participate in a professional show?
The summer acting camp at Penobscot was actually my first introduction to theatre and what made me fall in love with acting in the first place, so it prepared me in many ways. I started in fourth grade, and even then we were treated like professionals and expected to act accordingly. The play we developed was a collaborative effort that required each person to create his own character and come up with dialogue. We had a basic storyline to start and then we used improvisation to develop our characters and relationships until we had a finished product. As I got older and had the opportunity to do the advanced acting camps and workshops, I learned more about acting technique, auditioning, and the business side of theatre, but even that first experience was enough to prepare me for work in a professional show. It taught us that acting was not about getting in the spotlight or stealing the show, but about collaboration. I learned just how important listening is. This is extremely important in a professional show, especially an ensemble piece such as this, where everyone has to work together and connect with everyone else throughout the show.
Why do you think theater is important for young people?
I think theatre is essential for anyone who wants to think critically and ask questions and live and be a human, but it’s especially important for young people. We’re at an age where we’re still impressionable and we’re constantly developing and changing our opinions about things, trying to figure out exactly what we think about politics or religion, and trying to create fixed identities for ourselves. In order to do this, we need things that make us think. We need to go to the theatre and see the humanity in characters that we never thought we could relate to, so we can start to ask questions. When actors portray characters honestly, we can relate to them and recognize ourselves in them, which gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us. I feel like my generation also has the task of furthering social progress, and theatre can be an important tool in conveying social and political messages. I know a lot of people are still in the dark when it comes to mental illness. They’re intolerant of it because it’s unfamiliar so they don’t understand it and it makes them uncomfortable. But anyone who goes to see a play like “The Boys Next Door” will leave the theatre with a completely different perspective. Actors give people humanity, showing audiences that it’s possible to connect with people who are different from them. At this age we’re also still in the process of determining what’s right and wrong, and how to define morality. After going to see a show like “Equus,” it’s impossible not to have some sort of impression on the moral dilemmas that are presented in the play. We need plays that make us question. That’s why “Wit” is such a masterpiece. It might make the audience feel things, but it’s not a tearjerker that’s designed to manipulate the audience’s emotions and invoke specific feelings. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking piece that moves the audience as well as engages their minds and asks questions of them. This type of experience is absolutely critical for people my age if we want to become more complete human beings.
Information regarding PTC’s Dramatic Academy programming can be found at our website penobscottheatre.org under the Education tab or by contacting our Director of Education Jasmine Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 947-6618 ext. 104
WIT will run through March 31st at the Bangor Opera House. Special BUY ONE GET ONE for all cancer patients and survivors with code: Survivor. Group rates available. Purchase tickets, subscriptions and gift certificates online at www.penobscottheatre.org, or through the Box Office at 207-947-6618.