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Live Theatre. It’s an art form that, by its very nature, requires people to gather together to share an experience — a communal fear or a common hope. When you go to a theatre and sit in the dark with a few hundred fellow patrons, you laugh together, you cry together, and it has actually been proven by the University College London that, during a live performance, audiences’ hearts actually do beat as one. So what does a theatre do when the thing that defines them is taken away?
As COVID-19 sweeps the world, Rubicon Theatre Company, Ventura County’s professional theatre company, has been looking for answers to that question. Just like many other theatres from Broadway to Boise, Rubicon’s goal has always been to bring people together and build a sense of community.
Priority one for Rubicon at this time of year is the Summer Youth Program. For 21 summers, the board and staff of Rubicon has created a tradition of opening the company’s doors to the young theatre artists of our area. In that time, more than 2,600 students between the ages of five and twenty-five have crossed the threshold to spend their summers in the worlds of make-believe, musical theatre, technical theatre and classical Shakespeare. This year, due to Coronavirus, that threshold is barred. Yet Rubicon remains committed to making it another memorable summer. With help from friends far and wide, the company is not only keeping the program going this year, but expanding the curriculum to engage students on a more personal level.
For 2020, Rubicon has made the inevitable decision to move the program entirely online. “It’s a challenging proposition,” says Kirby Ward, director of the program. “Not being able to have a normal rehearsal with the cast all in one place is going to feel unusual for the kids. So much of what makes the summer great for them is that sense of being part of a team – part of something bigger than themselves. When you work successfully on a play or musical you create the feeling of a close-knit family. The bonds that form during these shows can last a lifetime.”
In summers past, those bonds were formed during an intensive six-day-a-week schedule, with rehearsals lasting eight hours a day for up to four weeks. The kids put training into action on one of four fully produced plays, including three musicals and a Shakespearean piece.
After weeks of discussion among the staff and board, the Rubicon organization decided that the summer program would move forward in spite of the challenges presented by quarantine.
“Even if a final live performance isn’t possible, we feel we can still provide valuable training and an effective emotional outlet for young people that working on a show allows,” says Ward.
This year’s list of shows includes Annie, Journey of the Noble Gnarble and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But there’s a wrinkle to the theatre’s plan; a bonus, if you will.
“Since we’ll be on the web,” says Ward, anyone from anywhere in the world can log in and be involved.” A full listing of artists and classes may be found at www.rubicontheatre.org.
Students also have personal weekly training sessions with voice teachers Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer, two past stars from the Broadway and National Tours of Hal Prince’s Phantom of the Opera.” The students will be rehearsing daily via Zoom and filming their scenes and songs in makeshift home studios.
In addition to the classes for young people, for the first time they have summer programs available for all ages. Adults will be able to audit the “Inside the Actor’s Process” for a fee. A class is also offered for aspiring stage manages taught by Rubicon’s Director of Production and Operations, Jessie Vacchiano,
Rubicon casting director Stephanie Coltrin and best-selling author Judy Kerr will be teaching classes in Audition Technique, both for stage and for film and television.
Full details and registration information for the summer programs is now open at www.rubicontheatre.org. For more information, call Kirby Ward at 805.667.2912, ext. 232, or contact him at [email protected].