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VOL. 126 | NO. 251 | Monday, December 26, 2011

Kids Take Center Stage with Circus

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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If the kids are pinging off the walls after a long winter holiday school vacation, Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center would like to put their excess energy to good use.

In Starfish Circus, coming to the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center in January, kids train in an intensive two-week residency program for live performances of acrobatics and physical theater. (Photo: Courtesy of Starfish Circus)

Starfish Circus, a pre-programmed artistic residency for high schoolers, will introduce kids to the many techniques of physical theater and stage acrobatics in a crash course culminating in a live performance.

In this show, skill-building is as important as entertainment value.

“It’s theater, but it’s circus theater,” said Ron Jewell, executive director of BPACC. “It’s very unique and something I thought the kids could really get into.”

Jewell learned about Starfish Circus last year from a friend who is a high school theater teacher. Later on, Germantown High School theater department chair Frank Bluestein brought Starfish Circus to his school, where Jewel got to see it live.

This is the first time BPACC has staged the production.

The traveling circus brings everything in the production – sets, costumes, music, equipment, crew and trainers – except for the children who star in it. Kids audition for various roles, which could be as simple as clowns performing various wordless skits or aerial acrobats suspended high over the stage on long silk scarves.

For two weeks the cast rehearses intensively in the afternoon and evenings and then performs the show twice in one day.

“The reality with theater is that there’s a lot of physicality even if it’s just knowing where your body is when you’re acting,” Jewell said. “You don’t have time to stop and think ‘what is my body doing?’ Anything you can do, particularly with young kids, to get them more acquainted with their physicality will pay back when they are acting.”

To that effect, BPACC’s TheatreKids Conservatory has been offering kids’ productions through the Missoula Children’s Theatre, which uses the same pre-programmed format. Last year, they produced a kids’ version of “The Wiz” and this year’s “Oklahoma!” in similar nine-week residencies.

Other BPACC programs have involved one-week residencies for kids.

“We have always made it a part of our mandate to educate kids on what’s it’s like to be onstage and in the audience,” said Jewell.

Jewell thought Starfish Circus could be good for older kids who are aging out of TheatreKids Conservatory and who often need a more physical challenge.

Starfish Circus, which is comparable in format to the popular Las Vegas act Cirque du Soleil, might also spark the interest of kids who’ve seen acrobatics on TV but never had the opportunity to spin around in a hula hoop 20 feet above a stage.

Kids, said Jewell, are aware of these types of acts but never have the opportunity to train for them.

“You don’t see these shows very often, but here’s a chance for kids to get firsthand training,” said Jewell. “Any time you get a child 10 to 12 feet off the stage, you have to be careful and execute everything as you’ve been taught. This will take hard work.”

Kids who are not ready for aerial stunts have plenty of other options on the ground.

There is a $75 tuition fee, which Jewell said is being purchased by some parents as Christmas presents.

Parents can get registration information by calling 385-6440. The deadline to register is Dec. 29. Jewell is hoping for a minimum of 50 kids, but everyone who registers is guaranteed a role in the performance.

Auditions for various parts will be held Jan. 12 and rehearsals run from Jan. 16 to 27. Both performances take place Jan. 28.

“We’ve had such a huge success with our TheatreKids program, so we thought we should stretch our wings a little bit with Starfish Circus,” Jewell said. “I think will be something quite fun to do over and over again.”

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