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Arts academy gives kids chance to shine

Children's theater alive again in Downtown Roseville
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Roseville Theater is experiencing an overload of cuteness and budding talent as a batch of young performers prepare for an upcoming musical.

The students, ages 4 to 7, in the recently formed Roseville Theatre Arts Academy began rehearsals Jan. 18 for “The Saga of Sweet Hannah Sue or Beware the Parcel You Pick,” an original play co-written by Jennifer Vaughn, the group’s artistic director.

During this rehearsal, 13 children assemble onstage. Vaughn tells them to march and stomp — so they learn how to stay on their lines and not travel around the stage — then the kids practice speaking in loud voices.

The little actors wiggle and fidget as Vaughn explains they will play Hannah Sue’s children and sing “So Long, Farewell,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”

“They’re telling you to go to bed and you don’t want to,” Vaughn says.

A theater veteran, Vaughn previously worked as musical director for Civic Theatre West, which ceased operations in November citing debt. That 23-year-old nonprofit organization, formerly called Magic Circle Theatre, boasted the state’s largest children’s theater workshop. When Civic Theatre West closed, so did the workshop.

But not for long.

Within about a week, Vaughn and Michelle Raskey, former program director for the defunct theater company, revived the workshop thanks to a generous donation by Granite Bay residents Steve and Renee Nash — the latter now serves on the academy’s board of directors.

The Roseville Theatre Arts Academy will only perform youth shows, refraining from costly main stage productions.

“So we won’t be doing ‘Cabaret’ or any of those million-dollar shows,” Raskey says to a group of parents during a rehearsal.

One of those parents is Nancy Gallo, who enrolled her daughter, Gianna, in the workshop. Gallo learned about the program from her sister-in-law.

“We wanted to see what this was all about,” she says.

Her daughter stands in the back row as Vaughn says the words to “So Long, Farewell” and the kids repeat her until they’ve memorized most of the lines. Then the lyrics are set to music.

“Now, can you say it real loud so I can hear you?” Vaughn asks. “Ooh, that was good. Keep it nice and loud.”

The children learn how to use facial expressions and upper body movements to convey emotion. Vaughn’s lessons are ones she’s used before with Civic Theatre West. But while the academy’s founders want to improve upon what their predecessor did well, they emphasize they’re not affiliated.

One area to succeed where Civic Theatre West failed: Be more financially prudent.

“The shows at Magic Circle were amazing, but the costs to do those kinds of shows is astronomical,” Raskey says.

The academy hopes to attract up to $250,000 in revenue this year, said board treasurer Annette Stalker. Program costs will be about $175,000 — or 70 percent — of total revenues.

Another 20 percent will pay for overhead, such as rent, utilities, insurance and supplies. The remainder will go to build up a reserve to replace or overhaul an antiquated heating and air conditioning unit, which is not covered in their lease of the downtown theater with the Masonic Lodge.

Stalker, a certified-public accountant, is one of three “brains” on the board with business sense, Raskey said. The other three members have artistic sense.

“Some nonprofit people run (their organization) like their dream,” Raskey said. “But we want to run this like a business.”

While the academy will pursue grants and sponsorships once their nonprofit status has been finalized, the board doesn’t want to rely solely on outside funding. Instead, they want to keep costs low and generate revenue. The board will set a monthly budget, not a show budget.

“We want to be very transparent to the community,” Raskey said. “We aren’t afraid to answer any questions. No one’s here to make money but it does take money to run, and a lot of people have misperceptions about cost.”

For instance, some people fail to realize the cost of royalty fees. Just because a musical is old doesn't mean the rights are inexpensive. For "Sweet Hannah Sue," the academy will pay the two co-writers $125 in royalties per cast. The kids are broken into two casts, so that totals $250. The writers have decided to donate that money back to the academy.

The academy hopes to get musicians and light technicians to work for free. A choreographer and arts instructor will receive a $500 stipend each for the two months they work on a show.

“Any way we can get something for free, we are going that route,” Raskey said, jokingly adding that if someone owns a toilet-paper factory they should give her a call.

The Roseville Theatre Arts Academy currently has about 125 kids enrolled in their “youth and little ones” musical theater workshop, and expects about 25 more students — ages 10 to 20 — to join the master’s workshop once auditions take place Feb. 3 for “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”

The academy will host a two-week summer program called Miss Hannigan’s Camp for Kids, teaching improvisation, singing, dancing, acting, stage combat and more. The organization wants to form a community choir and plans to rent the facility to other performing arts organizations.

In the meantime, though, the academy needs enough volunteers to ensure all these goals come to fruition. They have two full-time employees — Raskey and Vaughn — and plan to keep it that way. Many duties — ushering, concessions, facility maintenance, advertising, box office — will fall in the hands of volunteers.

“We really want to make this a community theater,” Raskey said. “We want to make it accessible and for them to feel ownership … I’m confident going forward. I think we’re going to be here for years to come.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Roseville Theatre Arts Academy’s call for volunteers
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31
Where: Roseville Theater, 241 Vernon St. in Roseville
Info: Volunteers needed in marketing, publication, maintenance, decorating, concessions, kitchen, box office, fundraising, ushering and more. For more information, call (916) 772-2777 or visit http://www.rosevilletheatreartsacademy.com/.