Now five seasons in the making, the Stage Adventures series is a scion of the ever-improving Sioux Empire Community Theatre. It’s no coincidence that this is same length of time in which Patrick Pope has been the Producing Artistic Director for SECT.
I sat down with Pope last week to discuss SECT’s current production of The Giver, enjoy some pizza, and talk about what’s next for youth theatre education in Sioux Falls.
As Pope explained, SECT produces two shows each season (one musical + one straight play) for the purpose of “planting the seeds” of our next generation of actors. If you’ve never been to one of their Stage Adventure productions, what you’ve been missing is the opportunity to see talented young actors playing the roles of protagonists alongside seasoned adult actors. Age appropriate casting is critical says Pope.
In addition to these two in-season productions, which Pope sees expanding to three productions in the next five years, the Sioux Empire Community Theatre also provides two musical theatre summer camp intensives. This summer they will be offering Seussical: The Musical Jr for children grades 1–8, followed by Hairspray for youth grades 6–12. More information about these summer camps can be found on their website.
And if that wasn’t enough (for Pope it’s most definitely NOT enough), SECT will soon embark on a new educational project aimed at providing more formal training to young actors with its own staff, as well as guest instructors from the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University.
Student actors will have the option to take a class in one of four disciplines: Acting, Movement, Voice, and Technical Theatre. Within each discipline, SECT will offer up to five levels of study (Acting 1 – 5, and so on). The only catch, students won’t be able to advance to the third level of a given discipline without taking classes in the other disciplines. The same goes for the fifth level of each discipline.
Pope explains that this gatekeeper approach is intended to promote a well-rounded experience for the young actor. Classes will be approximately 90 minutes in length, take place on Saturdays, and run year round with each class lasting one season (Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer).
Pope is planning a special bonus for students completing all twenty classes: a secret “Ensemble” designation and access to a new set of classes focusing on the craft of playwriting. Because SECT will be collaborating with guest instructors from the university, Pope hopes work out a small scholarship opportunity for those students reaching the “Ensemble” level designation.
Stay tuned to the Sioux Empire Community Theatre website for more details of this exciting opportunity.
I recently sat down for lunch with Patrick Pope of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre to discuss their production of The Giver, showing now through March 20, 2016. If you’re not familiar with the novel or stage adaptation, check out Maxine Houlihan’s synopsis and review here on The Falls Theatre Blog. The Giver is part of SECT’s Stage Adventure series: theatre that is affordable and accessible for the whole family.
Pope is unapologetically passionate about the future of theatre in South Dakota. Stay tuned for a feature article about his vision of youth theatre education in Sioux Falls. As the Producing Artistic Director of SECT at The Historic Orpheum Theatre Center, he also has a special interest in the vibrancy of the budding urban landscape that is Downtown Sioux Falls.
We met up at A Taste of the Big Apple in Uptown. Where is “Uptown” you may ask? Good question. I’m still looking for an exact set of boundaries myself. But from my experience, its the area surrounding Main and Phillips Ave, north of 6th Street toward Falls Park.
In Uptown you will find the Uptown Exchange Lofts and Phillips Ave Lofts. You know those new gray, cerulean and maroon buildings along the parkway leading to the Falls. You also have older buildings that have been renovated into residential and commercial spaces, even a church.
Located in the Dakota-Moline Plow Co. & Dempster Mill Mfg building, A Taste of the Big Apple is just off N Main Ave on 4th Street. If you haven’t spent much time in this part of town lately, I encourage you to go for a stroll and see what’s changed.
Nearby you will find the Museum of Visual Materials and the Icon Lounge. I enjoy strolling through this part of town on my lunch hour and let me say, there have been some stunning views of the Old Courthouse Museum clock tower during the dead of winter with the low sun in the southern sky.
Entering the Big Apple, you are hit immediately with the smell of fresh pizza dough. Behind the counter sits a stack of boxes, reminding you that if the weather is too nice, you can always opt to take your pizza to Falls Park for an impromptu picnic. If you chose to stick around and enjoy the smells, the dining room seats around 50. There is also a covered patio running the entire length of the south side of the building.
On the menu are thin crust pizzas galore. In addition to pizza they have calzones, soup and salads, and appetizers. I’m going to try Grandma’s Knish on a future visit. Grandmothers have a special way in the kitchen.
Open for lunch and dinner daily, this is a perfect choice if you are taking a group of hungry kids out to eat before or after the show. Or, as was the case of my meeting with Mr. Pope, it’s a great place to get away for a quiet lunch on a weekday.
Not on the menu but available to order at a reasonable price is an individual 7-inch pizza ($7-$8). On our visit I had the Little Italy’s Garden in this single serving pizza. It was chock full of roasted tomato, chunky mushrooms, and artichoke: a satisfyingly light lunch option. At a previous visit my brother, 11-year-old nephew and I split the large (16-inch) New Yorker, a pie that was unctuously cheesy and meaty.
My recommendation: Get out and see The Giver at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre. Share the experience with a youngster; and afterward, hoof it over to A Taste of the Big Apple for some delicious pizza. The kid will thank you for it.
A Taste of the Big Apple
600 North Main Ave
Mon – Sat, 11am-2pm & 5pm-9pm
Sun, 4pm-8pm Patio Seating: Lots Vegetarian: Yes Beer/Wine: Yes & Yes Parking: Street
Imagine living in a colorless world where there is no passion, no restlessness, no creativity. As a person who feels her emotions, often in their extremes, I would never survive. It is the sensory input, the variety, the reactionary feedback that inspires us to re-invent our future to accommodate change. But, what if there was no diversity, and we were fiercely prohibited from even thinking about innovation? What if we were, for all eternity, mandated to “sameness”? Would we rebel? Would we comply for the sake of tradition?
These are the questions Lois Lowry poses in her novel “The Giver”, which has been adapted for the stage by Dramatic Publishing Company. This chilling tale of a suppressed community has been given life by the Sioux Empire Community Theatre, whose actors are ready to mesmerize you on the stage of the Anne Zabel Theatre at the Orpheum.
We are introduced to this nameless community by two identical announcers who pace like sentinels as they watch their human charges, declaring rules in a tin-can tandem that sent a tingle up my spine. They inspired thoughts of Mr. Spock and his logical monotone; Siri, as she tells me to take the next exit; even Austin Powers’ Fembots, but without the sex appeal. Karrisa Kummer and Elaina Wegleitner never broke character and I found myself unable to look them in the eye as they passed.
We enter the story as Jonas, a boy of eleven who has no last name, paces anxiously, stressing about the upcoming ceremony where he will give up his childhood and be assigned a lifelong vocation. Outside of his home he is only referred to as “Number Nineteen” of “The Elevens”. Although they have been assimilated into the culture, Jonas’ family displays a contrasting bit of empathy, but insists that he do as all have done before him. He and his friends brood over what assignments they will receive, as not all are desirable.
Fast forward to the “Ceremony of Twelves”, where Jonas’ friends are given ordinary jobs, but Jonas is assigned the title of Receiver of Memories. This is a revered position that he does not understand, and it’s profound responsibility has the potential to isolate him from life, as he has known it.
Jonas is soon introduced to The Giver, a brooding man who seems vexed with the idea of transmitting all of the world’s memories into Jonas. You see, Jonas will be the Library of Alexandria, in human form. Throughout the show I was hypnotized by Jay Wickre as The Giver. He portrayed true empathy and despair through his movements and facial expressions, but, above all, I was transfixed by his eyes. They were piercing and emotive and I couldn’t look away.
As Jonas receives memory after memory, he becomes overwhelmed. He begins to see the community in a new light; and not a good one. His family and friends don’t understand what he is going through, and he feels support only from The Giver. He questions why the “sameness” is necessary, and is told that it is for the good of the people. There is a day, a scale-tipping day, when Jonas receives a shocking revelation about his family, and he can no longer accept the status quo. This twelve-year-old boy must now make a choice that could put him on a perilous new path through the unknown.
This production kept me on the edge of my seat all evening. Director Andy Heller clearly had the creative vision to assemble a great cast and keep them focused. What really stood out for me was the talent of the children. Young Robert Baker, as Jonas, had reams of lines to memorize and he delivered them all with just the right amount of emotion. I noticed that, the first time he laughed in character, he chose a cackling tone that clearly demonstrated his character’s lack of experience with joy. Jonas did not know how to laugh. Noah Bunger was moving as Asher, clearly displaying his angst about life as a “Twelve”. Olivia Gordon’s Fiona infused her character with a bit more contentment than the others. It made sense for a young girl who is okay with her world and satisfied with her job. Cast as little sister Lilly, Cassidy Jennings was adorable in braids and bows, carrying around a stuffed elephant that her character would never have seen in real life. She successfully portrayed the rebellious nature of a younger child, who is sometimes grumpy, regardless of what her elders say. Alex Vasquez and Jessica Tebben, who played Jonas’ parents, allowed their characters to display some emotion and empathy for their children. It showed an adherence to the rules in public, but some parental love within the home. Cheryl Matthews was pompous, forceful and condescending as the Chief Elder. It was spot on; she scared me. Last, but not least was Johanna Merrill as Rosemary, whose story we learn mostly through dialogue. We don’t see much of her, but, when we do, the sorrow is raw on her face.
The Zabel Theatre was arranged with the stage on one end, set pieces on the floor, and a U-shaped audience surrounding it. It was easy to see the action from any seat in the house. Sound effects successfully brought in a sensory effect, and a screen on the stage allowed us to enter Jonas’ mind when he was thinking.
This production of “The Giver” clearly stayed true to the themes in the book. I did not know what to expect, as I have never read it, but this cast drew me in and didn’t let go. The show runs the next two weekends and can be seen at a very reasonable price. With a running time of just over an hour and no intermission, I would recommend it for anyone over the age of ten. I think younger kids might struggle with the concept and get fidgety. See the show, then go get coffee and dessert and talk about it!
The Giver runs March 10 – 20, 2016. Thurs., Fri. & Sat. at 7 p.m. and Sat. & Sun. at 2 p.m.