The onstage results of a new theater training program in Rochester will be unveiled this week when Immersion Youth Repertorypresents "Into the Woods Jr." at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
Thirteen students in grades 4 through 12 will have spent three weeks on the production, from acting to gathering props and costumes to set construction. They are directed by singer/actor Misha Johnson, of Rochester, and New York-based singer/actor Lindsey Blackhurst.
The students in the program, several of whom are on scholarship, represent a variety of backgrounds, Johnson said.
"We didn't want this to be just another pricey theater camp," she said. "A lot of kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the ones who need theater and art the most. Lindsey and I truly believe that theater and fine art (are) not just for the privileged."
Johnson and Blackhurst became friends at the University of Colorado, where they earned degrees in theater performance. Johnson, who has recently moved back to her hometown of Rochester, has extensive professional acting credits in the Denver area. Blackhurst, in addition to performing in opera and musical theater, has taught in New York schools and theater programs.
Immersion Youth Repertory is not affiliated with the Rochester Repertory Theatre, but does use the Rep's stage. "We wanted a central theater location," Johnson said. "It's a nice, small space to perform in."
"Into the Woods Jr." is a musical filled with characters from fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
Johnson, who has offered a similar program in Denver, said she had hoped more students would enroll in Rochester. "Honestly, it's a small enrollment," she said. "But we didn't know how to get the word out." Larger enrollment in future classes, she said, will help hold down the cost of tuition.
Students who are not able to pay the full tuition ($750 this year) are assigned a work-study position that involves finding sponsorships and donations to support the scholarships. Sponsors not only get tickets to the show, but are invited to lunch with the cast.
Johnson acknowledged that there are already summer theater programs offered locally at Rochester Civic Theatre and Words Players. "We are slightly different," she said. "We have (participants) do everything, that's why we call it 'Immersion.' The leader of our costumes is 13 years old. It's really powerful when you give them that confidence."
Immersion Youth Repertory is already planning to offer three more sessions in 2017 in Rochester, in February, July and August. The August session will be a production of the musical "Urinetown."