Up Close and Personal

Tricky Performance a Treat for Halloween

A magical experience became positively spell binding this Halloween when Academy of the Arts students participated in a unique dramatic performance. A jar of screams, a poison apple and weeks of thorough preparation helped them to pull off some challenging performances at Naper Settlement’s All Hallows Eve.

The annual two-night family friendly Halloween scare attracted over 5,000 people. Instead of doing one performance per night like most shows, our young cast had to replay a five-minute vignette up to 30 times a night!

In a play written especially for them, they presented Hansel and Gretel: A Twisted Fairytale. Audience members were certainly surprised when Little Red Riding Hood entered with the Big Bad Wolf, and the wicked queen from Snow White helped the witch cast a dastardly spell.

Instead of the regular theater spaces they’re used to, the actors were only inches away from the ever-changing audience in an historic carriage house.

The performance was the culmination of our first after school program, The Studio, which in addition to acting and improv classes, offers music and dance. Our acting and improvisation teachers worked together to prepare the students.

Professional actress and teacher Jocelyn Adamski said: “It’s challenging anytime you are in a space in which the audience is so close, it can be very distracting. The students learned that audiences can vary.  They learned that no matter the reaction, whether an audience is loud or unresponsive, to keep going and to take pride in the good work they are doing.  The students learned to focus on their performance, and not to judge their work based on audience reaction.  I’m immensely proud of the students and the great work they did at this event.”

Improv isn’t just about playing games. Teacher Richard Oberbruner prepared the young cast for just about anything.

“From an improv perspective, performing inside a dimly lit old barn, with a small audience right in front of you is as spontaneous a setting as there is,” he said. “Every move, every sound an actor makes is seen and heard. Our actors had to be-in-the-moment throughout the vignette however many times they performed it that evening. Our improv rehearsals reinforced a loose focus – stick to the script but have fun with it. Also, our rehearsal space was similar in size to the show space. Blocking all of our movements ahead of time added to the actor’s comfort level within the old barn setting.”

He added that the additional element of experimentation helped to create livelier more believable characters, not easy when you’re telling a fairy story!

Twelve-year-old Maya Meschi felt she learned a lot playing Gretel, the nervous little girl who starts out terrified but ultimately saves the day by trying to use the wicked queen’s wand against her.

“I’ve done some performances before, like with Brightside Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall in January but you aren’t as close to the audience,” she said. “I thought this was very cool because you don’t usually see how the audience reacts. It was challenging but once I got into the hang of doing it, it was cool to see it from the beginning to the end. Rehearsals prepared us well with blocking and learning lines. One useful tip Miss Jocelyn gave us was to go home and practice facial expressions in front of a mirror. That piece of advice stuck with me. It was also fun working in a small group where everyone is so nice in a positive environment.”

For Anna Grigorie, 14, working with the Academy has helped her decide to follow acting as a future career.

“I’ve taken part in other theater programs out of school, but the Academy has enforced that I want to become an actress even stronger,” she said.

Anna says she loved her role as the witch.

“Usually I perform further away from the audience so at first it was a little bit different,” she said. “It became a little more intimidating, but I learned how to carry on staying in character. I did enjoy it though. I felt pretty well prepared by our acting lessons. I’ve played a witch before, so I already had some accents and picked the one I liked best.”

Anna’s excited to use her costume, and her favorite accent, when she goes trick or treating this year.

If you’d like to find out more about The Studio, visit illinoisartsacademy.org/studio.