Bay Street Theater launches new performance academy for young actors

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Growing up in the East End, Kayla Matters, a 2014 Southampton High School graduate, relished the friendships she made through theatre. Matters holds particularly fond memories of its peers at Stages, Helene Leonard’s children’s theater workshop which for decades presented productions at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor until closing its doors for good with the arrival of COVID-19.

Matters, who began performing with Stages at age 13, quickly developed a passion for acting, pursuing it each summer during his teenage years at Long Lake Camp for the Arts in the Adirondacks and eventually specializing in acting. subject at Ryder College in New Jersey.

A graduate of Ryder in 2018, Matters is now back in the East End and ready to jump into the theatrical void left by Stages’ closure.

As director of the Bay Street Student Academy, a new performing arts program for children and teenagers which starts on January 31, Matters seeks to introduce young people in the East End to the professional world of theatre. She explains how the program, which was created in collaboration with Bay Street’s director of education and community outreach, Allen O’Reilly, and the theater’s general manager, Tracy Mitchell, came about.

“It was kind of my brainchild,” Matters explained in a recent interview. “When I came back to the community and saw a gap in theater education, I realized that kids want to be on stage. They want to perform.”

So Matters contacted O’Reilly and pointed out that the biggest hurdle facing children’s theater programs in the East End is finding performance spaces – something Bay Street Theater has to offer, especially outside season.

“We are lucky to have a beautiful space, so why not use it?” she asked. “We have a community that yearns to see things on stage. I have this passion that I want to share with children. I think it’s a perfect marriage.

One of the things Matters has noticed about most children’s acting classes is that they end with a small presentation designed primarily for the parents of the participants. But Matters’ vision is to raise the bar by offering a program that mimics professional theater in every way, ending in a production that will appeal not just to parents, but to the wider community.

“I want to implement things – not just teach terms like this is stage left, cue to cue and other technical terms that you need as a seasoned actor – but also theoretical terms professionals that I learned growing up,” Matters said. “Things like, ‘Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable.’

“These are things that I think apply to any career,” she added. “Whether it’s about making theater a career or a creative outlet, it’s about building public speaking skills, confidence, teamwork, functioning under pressure, time constraints and all that people can learn and apply to real-world situations.”

Among the real-life situations that Bay Street and Matters are currently facing is the notion of flexibility, which, ironically, is now part of the inaugural session of Student Academy. While Matters had originally planned to offer a full-fledged production of “The Addam’s Family” musical for this first batch of academy students, concerns over the recent rise in COVID-19 cases have led to a change of focus to “Leading the Show”. – A ‘character study class’, offering a more in-depth and individualized model.

For the 10-week workshop, students aged 12-18 are invited to choose any lead role from a play or musical that they would like to explore further. Throughout the course, students will conduct an in-depth examination of their character’s arc and journey in the respective show and work through selected songs, scenes, and monologues. The course will end with the students presenting their roles, songs and scenes for the community in early April.

Although the original vision of a comprehensive musical presentation has been changed somewhat, for now at least, the overarching goal of the program remains the same: to give students first-hand experience of the work needed to play a leading role. on stage, whether it’s being on Broadway or in their own hometown.

Throughout the workshop, students will develop their songs by working individually with Music Director Bobby Peterson and professional dancer and choreographer Ross Thompson. Additionally, Matters will direct students’ work on the stage and characters to deepen their understanding of the text through analysis of the lyrics and script. Other guest artists will also come throughout the session to provide more creative experiences for the class.

For Matters, having adult performers available to guide students and teach them what it means to be a theater professional is key to the program.

“I don’t forget my first singing teacher at 13, and those people who sparked my passion. I want to be that person for young artists and I know how powerful theater can be,” Matters said. “Thirteen to 18 is a difficult age, and for me, when it got difficult, I had solace in musicals. A lot of them face difficulties. One of the ways that I worked on is remembering that this character did this or felt that.

“That’s what theater and Stages were to me,” she added. “I made so many friends from Sag Harbor and I was from Southampton. I knew I was going to see my friends who enjoy the same things I do. If I had any problems at the cafeteria table, I knew I would be fine. It’s about equity and inclusion.

“I want to make sure they have a safe space, that they’re supported, and that they can explore the emotions they’re feeling.”

The Bay Street Student Academy character “Leading the Show – A Character Study Class” is open to ages 12-18 and runs from Monday, January 31 through Wednesday, April 6. The class will meet every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuition is $300. Students must be vaccinated. Need-based scholarships are available. To learn more, visit baystreet.org. The Bay Street Theater is on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

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