• Shannon Stoddard

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

It's finally snowing in Fort Smith and my rehearsal as been cancelled due to slick roads... So I thought, what better time to catch up on rehearsal prep... Then I realized I left my script at the school last night thinking I'd just have it there today for rehearsal. So with no script and time on my hands... I started reflecting on my teaching experiences.

It has been 9 years since I've started working with some of the actors in my teen theatre company. Being able to watch those students grow -- from young excited kids to mature, talented and eager teens. The kind of joy that sensation gives a teacher is indescribable. I've always said that the bond between my students and myself is like none other... we form this bond because we work so closely together on these creative projects -- we've overcome challenges and celebrated wonderful victories!

When I decided to go to grad school in 2016 -- it was my students who it was the hardest to tell I was leaving, they were the hardest to leave... and they were one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come back home when I graduated. I guess the best way to describe it is that we've all grown up together -- them as actors, me as a teacher/director ... but all of us as people, artists, leaders, etc.

Take a look at the awesome make-up design in this photo. I am so proud to say that my make-up artist for this show is one of my former students who ended up taking a special interest in make-up. I reached out to her during The Lion King JR and asked if she would be interested in designing make-up for that show and she jumped at the opportunity! I am LOVING getting to work with her on this end of the creative team. I think she is really rising to the challenge and I couldn't be more proud of Carly Austin!

Now, let's start at the top and work our way clockwise... my Cowardly Lion (Grant Huneycutt) -- I have taught since he was in 2nd grade... in fact, he was my Horton in Seussical the Musical JR -- my VERY FIRST musical to ever direct all by myself! That show holds a special place in my heart... and the students that were involved at the very beginning with me also have their own special place there. This particular student has been involved in basically every show and camp I've done for his grade level since I've been teaching in Fort Smith. As a director/teacher I don't always make a lot of sense when trying to share my creative ideas... especially at those late night rehearsals... but I'm always impressed when my students know what I'm talking about and can run with those ideas! I think they speak "Shannon-eze"...

ANYWAY... as rehearsals have been going along for Wizard of Oz -- sometimes it's hard for me to juggle rehearsals with 30+ teens and keep everyone engaged. Grant has kept groups of students rehearsing on one scene while I work on another scene -- always super appreciative of that! And then this past week I was choreographing "We're Off To See The Wizard" and I had a cool idea for the four friends to be weaving in and out of each other but couldn't figure out how to achieve that look with the actual actors -- (sometimes things make so much more sense in my head!). Grant knew EXACTLY what I was going for and ended up being the one to teach the group that portion of the dance. In the end... I think the dance looks really great! I appreciate that Grant has dubbed himself my Assistant Director -- he's doing great a job -- and does these types of things all the time without even being asked! He is the perfect Cowardly Lion in this production!

The next actor, my Scarecrow (Kobe Clay) -- I only started teaching my very last semester before I left for NYC. He played the youngest of the brothers in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat... and although I didn't get to work with him as long as other actors -- I knew immediately that he was someone who would fill one of those special places in my heart as well.

Kobe always comes to rehearsal with a positive attitude and brings so much life to his character! He is the going to be the perfect Scarecrow in our upcoming production -- and although I've known him the shortest amount of time of the other friends -- it's like he's been around just as long as the others! (Which is something along the lines of what Dorothy says to Scarecrow as she is preparing to leave Oz!)

Next is my Dorothy Gale (Turner Tecmire) -- I've taught her for several years -- but what I remember the most about her is that she was so shy and quiet her very first semester in my class! You'd never guess that now -- watching her pour her heart and soul into the character of Dorothy. She is a very serious actress but also knows how to have fun within the role. She is the perfect Dorothy Gale!

I THINK her first show with me was Peter Pan JR when she was in probably 5th grade. She was quiet but always did her part well. Then she was given a featured solo in School House Rock Live, JR and I remember thinking "WOW! This girl has got a LOT of talent!" From then on out she has really been one of the leaders in my productions -- whether her part is large or small -- she gives 110% and is always a joy to work with!

Last but not least is my Tinman (Caleb Hopkins) -- I've been teaching this talented young man for YEARS as well... my first memory of him though is when he came to audition as a 6th or 7th grader for Scrooge the Musical. He auditioned with a monologue from Home Alone and acted out the scene where he puts his hands to his face and screamed -- I think it involved shaving... but that part I can't quite remember. I thought he was super adorable and he was cast as one of the children. From then on out he has held many important roles.

My favorite part about him though is that he can take a role with even very few lines but give it so much dimension and personality. One of my favorite roles he's played was Lurch in The Addams Family. Although he literally only grunted and groaned... Lurch was by far one of my favorite characters because of the life he brought to it! His talent over the years has grown tremendously and he has also developed into one of the strongest leaders within my company. He is doing a wonderful job as Tinman! He graduates high school this year and I will be very sad to have him move on.... but at the same time -- incredibly proud of him!

Of course there are MANY others in my cast and many of them also deserve the recognition... Although the show is still over a month away so I'm so I'll be bragging on hem all some more soon! Some of them I have also taught over the past 9 years and some are very new to me... but all of them are already doing a spectacular job and I am already incredibly proud of them. I can tell already that Wizard of Oz will quickly become one of my favorites to direct! But today I wanted to feature these actors -- because they have been working so very hard and the deserve to be bragged on!

The point of my post was to share the love of being able to teach my students from young ages and watching them grow. Just this week I started rehearsals with my Kids Theatre Company of children in grades K-2 for our munchkins. I can't wait to see which of these students stick around for the next several years because I am so excited to watch another batch of students grow up! It is a special job that I have and I wouldn't trade it for the world!