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The group of aspiring actors is split up to work on and perform one of three options: a musical, a classical play, and a student-devised piece.
STAR’s at the theatre 072617 AE 1 Mackenzie Fisher, for the Capital City Weekly The group of aspiring actors is split up to work on and perform one of three options: a musical, a classical play, and a student-devised piece.

Kyra Wood, 11, right, and Liam Penn, 13, in a production of North Star Vaud at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo by Michael Penn.


Zayden Schijvens, 13, left, battles his brother, Denali, 10, in a scene from Hamlet at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Zayden plays Hamlet while his brother is Laertes. The play is one of three productions being produced during the five-week long workshop. Performances start tonight and run through Sunday, July 30, on the main stage. The Lion King Jr. and North Star Vaud are the two other productions. Tickets are $12 general admission, $5 student. Call 907-463-TIXS or go to ptalaska.org/education/star-program.Photo by Michael Penn.


Aurora Ward, 15, as Timon, left, rehearses with Leah Funk, 10, and Cadence Ward, 10, in a production of The Lion King Jr. at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo by Michael Penn.


Zuri Dejean, left, and Kiera Liska, both 13, sing with other students in a production of The Lion King Jr. at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo by Michael Penn.


Theater artist K. Brian Neel demonstrates making a flapping sound with an umbrella for students in a production of North Star Vaud at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. The students from left are: Kyra Wood, 11, Chaz Vanoria, 11, Sophia Percy, 10 and Miles Caldwell, 13. Photo by Michael Penn.


Kiera Liska, 13, as a wildebeest, with Fredrik Thorstienson, 10, as Young Simba, left, rehearsal with other students in a production of The Lion King Jr. at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017.


Ethan Bjerkeset, 11, as Mufasa, lays dead as Fredrik Thorstienson, 10, as Young Simba, left, and Isaac Schlosser, 14, as Scar rehearse with other students in a production of The Lion King Jr. at Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo by Michael Penn.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Story last updated at 7/25/2017 - 4:41 pm

STAR’s at the theatre

The Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous (STAR) has a lot of new talent to show off this year to go along with the returning students of this program. The Perseverance Theatre has been running STAR since 1985 and originated as an adult program.

“Somewhere in the mix it turned into a kids program,” said Tom Robenolt, the Artistic Associate and Director of Education at Perseverance Theatre.

Robenolt started with Perseverance in 2013 working in positions such as box office manager or director, but a little more than a year ago he landed the position he is in today, making this his second year running the STAR program.

There are 38 kids participating in the program this year who range from ages 10-18, however, this year a few nine-year-olds were allowed to train and perform with the others.

“Every year it fluctuates, this year there are a lot of new kids making this almost a whole new group,” Robenolt said. “There’s so much more that they don’t know, but I have to say that every single one of them is stepping up. It’s interesting to see the progression in the four weeks. There has been so much growth.”

Before each kid is allowed to join STAR, there is a conversation with them to see how serious they are about wanting to be a part of its professional training program. STAR is not just a day camp where parents can drop off their kids and expect them to be entertained.

The group of aspiring actors is split up to work on and perform one of three options: a musical, a classical play, and a student-devised piece. The musical group starts at 10 a.m. and goes to 1 p.m., then all the groups meet to go over a broad range of different theatre skill sets for one hour Monday-Friday before the plays split up to practice until 5 p.m. This year there was a different spin on the hour of group practice; there were a few local artists that came in to teach in their specific area of theatre expertise. Roblin Davis came in and taught comedy and mask work, Frank Henry Kaash Katasse taught the “actor’s toolbox,” and Hali Duran made a special appearance to teach dance and movement. This hour with all the students together is the kids’ time to get to know each other and form a bond over what they are learning.

The musical

The chosen musical for this year was “The Lion King JR.” lead by director Dawn Kolden who is a veteran with the program, this year marking her eighth with STAR. Kolden, Robenolt, and Musical Director Missouri Smyth decided on “The Lion King JR.” musical due to the amount of technical support Perseverance has this year like masks and the costumes that are required.

“We have some beautiful clothes coming in from Africa,” Kolden said. “Another reason the Lion King worked out is because the opportunity it has due to ensemble work, which is really great for a summer program.”

Kolden heard there were similarities between the musical and the Disney movie, so she made the decision to not watch the Lion King movie to assure that she brings a fresh take to the creative process. There are 15 committed students that are a part of this musical. Kolden and Robenolt both mentioned how the students would often show up to practice an hour early.

“These kids are constantly working, even on their breaks,” Kolden said.

Smyth ran the Alaska Youth Choir for 14 years and has a high standard for the kids; she uses their natural ability that they have at their age and works it into everyone’s favor.

The number of newer students makes it so the older kids have the opportunity to mentor the younger ones by example.

“The young kids are learning focus from the older kids and the older kids look to the younger kids to play,” Kolden said. “The level of intensity requires a high level of focus.”

One girl has been a student of Kolden’s in the STAR program for six years and is an example of the children the directors have been able to see blossom over the years and step up to take what Kolden calls, “some beautiful roles.”

“I’ve cried four times during rehearsals,” Kolden said about seeing the growth in students. The audience can expect to see warm, colorful costumes and hear some well practiced harmonies and melodies. Robenolt mentioned how the music is being handled well and that the voices are powerful allowing him to hear them clear from the back row.

“Children’s voices are so innocent and pure the way they are telling the story is so uplifting. Young people’s theater brings so much joy into it,” Kolden said. “I leave every day from the theater uplifted and thankful.”

The “Lion King JR.’s” remaining performances are July 28 at 7:30 p.m. and July 30 at 2 p.m.

The classic

The classical play for this year is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” directed and cut by Donice Gott. This is Gott’s seventh year working with Perseverance’s STAR program. She was born and raised here in town, graduated form Juneau-Douglas High School, and is now working with Theater in the Rough and Perseverance. Gott also works for the Alaska State Legislature, which she says, is “a crazy production in and of itself.”

Gott has taken Shakespeare’s original play and cut it for time while still doing her best to maintain the integrity of the play.

There are 17 students participating in “Hamlet,” two of which are nine-year-olds and the oldest being 15.

“I just love kids,” Gott said. “When I see them around town I sort of badger them into being in my play. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but ideally they want to be here. They know they have to commit.”

The student playing Hamlet is 13 years old and Gott says he is working “incredibly hard.” She often meets with him, as well as other students, to work on their lines before class.

Gott hopes (and often sees accomplished) that the kids participating in this program will achieve a greater sense of confidence, trust in their fellow ensemble members, problem solving skills and self-discipline from memorizing lines.

“We’re trying to give them a professional experience. I hope overall they have an experience in having been in something that’s bigger than themselves,” Gott said.

She hopes to be able to sit and watch during the performances and says she’ll either be crying or laughing.

“They are creating the world around them through the language,” said Robenolt. “There is no dumbing down, there are 10 and nine year olds speaking Shakespeare. That, in itself, is special.”

This play’s remaining performances are July 26 at 7:30 p.m. and July 29 at 7:30 p.m.

The original

“North Star Vaud” is the name of the play the students created and is directed by K. Brain Neel, a fairly new addition to STAR’s directors with this being his second year. What the six kids who were participating in this play came up with is a variety show that includes a Marcs Brother’s routine, mime work, comedic stick and a contemporary, originally written radio show. Neel helped guide the kids in the creation of this play, assigning things where he needed to, however, the radio show was completely generated by the students.

“Every student that I have is a lead actor,” said Neel. “Every nugget (of the play) is so juicy and fun to watch… every piece is like a box of candy. The kids’ original work is remarkable and it just amazes me a 15-minute play can come out of the minds of these kids. Original work is inspiring.”

North Star Vaud’s remaining performances are July 27 at 7:30 pm and July 29 at 2 p.m.

Robenolt and each of the directors all agree that this program allows for an experience “you can’t find everywhere.”

Tickets for the shows are $5 for students and $12 general admission, they are available online or by calling the Perseverance box office at 463-8497.

Mackenzie Fisher is a freelancer writer living in Juneau.