BARRINGTON — Joanne Fayan may be a veteran of the stage, but she’s not above taking direction from a young theater rookie every once in a while.
“This summer we had a 4-foot-10-inch prop master,” said Ms. Fayan. “She was showing me how things work, where things go.”
That’s par for the course at St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, where Ms. Fayan serves as artistic program director for ACTSA (ACT at St. Andrew’s). The comprehensive theater arts training program offers classes and camps for children ages 4 to 18.
ACTSA is formerly All Children’s Theatre, a renowned Providence-based drama company that went belly-up in 2009 after a 22-year run.
“We did very good work,” said Ms. Fayan, who spent two stints with the first ACT totaling 20 years. She left the company at one point for 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, where she became well-known for various roles. In May 2009 she returned to direct education and outreach for ACT.
“Then they closed,” said Ms. Fayan, who was let go in October 2009, just five months into the job. The theater had been undergoing some financial difficulties, and the executive director was ready to move on, she said.
But then St. Andrew’s, where ACT was running some summer programs, saw an opportunity to keep the program going. “When All Children’s Theatre went into receivership, St. Andrew’s already knew about ACT and the mission and how we worked with young people,” said Ms. Fayan. “It made sense bringing ACT here because the arts are so integrated here.”
ACTSA is open to all kids whether they attend St. Andrew’s or not. “We extend to the whole state, even Southeast Massachusetts,” said Lisa C. Abbatomarco, the program’s executive director and outreach program administrator.
Ms. Abbatomarco, who works in collaboration with Ms. Fayan, runs the five fall after-school classes in which about 60 kids are currently enrolled. “They’re typical acting classes. They run the gamut from technique, improvisation, theater games, diction, movement, dance and storytelling,” she said, adding that they’re broken down into different age groups.
When the kids turn 8, they’re eligible to be part of the ACTSA Ensemble, a performance troupe consisting of intermediate and advanced actors up to the age of 18.
“The directors are all professional teaching artists who we’ve worked with. Some of them were actually kids in All Children’s Theatre at one point,” said Ms. Abbatomarco. “The main (ensemble) productions are here, but we have a summer tour at different public locations like libraries and community centers that has gone to Providence, Cranston, Dartmouth and Tiverton. They’re literally on the road. They load up the van and go from place to place.”
The ensemble provides solid theater arts training, said Ms. Fayan. “We’re not heading for Broadway ourselves. They love being on the stage but they’re all developing different skills,” she said.
Upcoming productions include “Alice in Wonderland,” in December. “Wholes,” by Louis Sachar — a book on many eighth-grade reading lists — will be adapted for the stage in April. The performances are open to all.
Being so new, ACTSA isn’t as large in numbers as its predecessor. “It’s smaller than what All Children’s was, but it’s growing,” said Ms. Abbatomarco. “They had 100 kids in the ensemble to pull from. But they had a 20-year run. We feel like we’re still in the beginning.”
Added Ms. Fayan: “It’s definitely smaller because we have to integrate in the already existing programs. But what’s different about it is the amazing facility here. The McCullough Center for the Arts is only seven to eight years old and it’s absolutely beautiful.” she said.
The new program isn’t intended to be a carbon copy of the previous ACT anyway, said Ms. Abbatomarco. “We feel like we’re stepping into our own identity with it. It certainly has the core of what All Children’s was, but it’s developed into its own,” she said.
For more information about ACTSA, visit www.standrews-ri.org.
What’s happening elsewhere
Other private schools in our area also offer strong drama programs.
Over at Portsmouth Abbey, the Abbey Players stage three productions annually — two plays and a musical — open to all. The Gordon School in East Providence has fall and winter productions by middle school students and a third- and fourth-grade spring musical. Now in its fifth year, the school’s Shakespeare Ensemble gives middle school students a chance to participate in a multi-school project that culminates in an off-campus evening performance of one of The Bard’s plays.
At the all-girl St. Mary Academy Bay View in East Providence, the Bay View Players have won numerous individual, ensemble and technical crew awards during its long history.
“With me they’ve been around 30 years, but they existed before that. I wanna say 50 years,” said Christine Kavanagh, artistic director, adding that the ensemble is in demand as much for its singing as its acting.
“We’ve sung internationally, we’ve sung locally. We just did a recording last night for the Gloria Gemma Walk that’s going to be held in October,” she said, referring to the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” fund-raiser. “We made a recording in the studio with Joanne Lurgio, who wrote a song.”
In November, children in grades 5 to 12 are appearing in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” “I’ve got 72 kids in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ That’s a lot, but the idea is to keep it as broad as we can so we can give as many students an opportunity as we can,” said Ms. Kavanagh.
The ensemble tackles straight drama as well. For last year’s R.I. State Drama Festival, The Bay View Players took on Reginald Rose’s courtroom drama, “Twelve Angry Men.” Being an all-girl school, however, it was tweaked and re-named “Twelve Angry Women.”
Act, or work on set design
At Pennfield School in Portsmouth, students in grades 5 through 8 typically put on a musical that is staged at the school in the spring for the general public.
“We do ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ which was very dramatic,” said Mandy Howe, the upper school art, theater and technical coordinator.
Students in grades 1 to 3 produce an original play each winter and fourth- and fifth-grade students also participate in their own original production annually.
Eighth-grade teacher Liz Swain is the director and graphic design artist Chris Silvia is the creative director who works with children on the technical aspects of production,
“Some kids can be actors and some kids can be tech. They build all the sets and they learn all kinds of carpentry,” said Ms. Howe, adding that plenty of parents volunteer and help with costumes. “We get help in different areas.”