Special to the Sky-Hi News
Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre

Youth, teen programs flourish at Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre

This summer Joel and Laura Bess Ewing, together with 1-year-old Gus, swapped Chicago city life for the tranquil shores of Grand Lake where they will be teaching Grand County youth and teens the fundamentals of acting.

Joel is the new education director at Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, and Laura Bess is directing the Youth Theatre Workshop (7- to 9-year-olds) and Youth Theatre Production (10- to 12-year-olds).

Both Ewings have been with RMRT for three years helping with youth and teen theatre.

“We are thrilled to be heading up RMRT’s youth and teen programs,” said Joel.

Both he and Laura Bess are Chicago public school teachers and professional actors.

Anna Danielson, another longtime RMRT alum, will be directing Teen Theatre Academy (13- to 18-year-olds) starting July 21. Youth Theatre Workshop and Youth Theatre Production are under way.

Youth program genesis

Back in 1998, Becky McBride and Judith Warren, then the artistic director for RMRT, initiated the theatre’s first youth education program.

“The goal back then was to provide a cultural and creative outlet for Grand County youth,” said Jim DeMersseman, RMRT education chair and a retired teacher with 35 years of drama experience.

The community’s response to the program has been overwhelming, he said.

“The last three years we have seen explosive growth, and every year we have had to expand the number of students we have taken and still had more kids on the waiting list.”

For 2014 the RMRT education committee wanted to expand all three programs to include more kids. Registration was moved up to February so the education director could assess interest, hire additional staff, and find shows for larger groups. The quota was filled within the first 15 minutes of registration, DeMersseman said.

Overall, the Youth Theatre Production and Teen programs grew this year by an additional 10 kids each, prompting RMRT to add two program staff.

“You know you are doing things right when you have kids progressing through all three programs,” DeMersseman said. “Kids enroll in the first two programs then graduate to the teen workshop where they are writing their own material.”

The Workshop

In the Youth Theatre Workshop, kids performs skits in a review, and the older kids in Youth Theatre Production put on a show — “Annie Jr.”

This year’s total enrollment includes more than 120 youth and teens and there are still about a dozen people on a waiting list, something that the education committee and the Ewings would like to alleviate.

“We would like to provide theatre for everyone who wants it,” Joel said. “One of the challenges is having space available at the theatre when we are running six shows a week, plus the staff of professional actors who are performing in three different shows, six days a week.”

Every year about 1,500 professional actors audition for a coveted spot in RMRT’s company. Some of these actors also help teach the youth and teens.

“What makes our program special is we have professional actors teaching the kids,” Joel said.

Both youth programs and the teen academy culminate with live productions on the RMRT stage.

For more information and show times, visit www.rockymountainrep.com, or call 970-627-5087.

“The last three years we have seen explosive growth, and every year we have had to expand the number of students we have taken and still had more kids on the waiting list.”
Jim DeMersseman
RMRT education chair


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The Sky-Hi News Updated Aug 4, 2014 01:29PM Published Jul 31, 2014 12:01PM Copyright 2014 The Sky-Hi News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.