AURORA | Just when it seemed that Aurora’s theater scene was reaching terminal velocity, one of the newest city-owned entities in the Aurora Cultural Arts District has launched yet another artistic satellite into orbit.
And this time, it’s for the youngins.
“The more kids who get in there and have a positive experience with any of these [Aurora Colfax arts] places, the more future arts appreciation aficionados we have and that just says something for our piece of mind and our culture as a whole,” said Pam Clifton, education coordinator for The Vintage Theatre in Aurora.
Pamela Clifton playfully hides behind a mask used in a production of "J.B." as she excitedly talks about The Vintage Theatre's new youth program, Feb. 9 at the theater in Aurora. Clifton is in charge of the new program which is intended for children ages 6-18 interested in pursuing acting, set design and myriad other aspects of stagecraft. Working toward an eventual final production to be held on the Vintage MainStage, students will hone their skills for 2-3 hours a week during 10-week sessions during the school year and six weeks during the summer.
With over 30 years of theatrical education experience, Clifton is the head of the Vintage’s new Vintage Youth Program, which offers classes, workshops and myriad opportunities for behind and onstage experience to local children ages 6-18. The program began its inaugural 10-week session on Feb. 16.
“There are so many kids who don’t fit into sports, who are more outcasts, and then they get into theater classes like this and they blossom,” Clifton said. “I’ve done a lot of work with people with ADD and autism and they are great at theater, whereas they struggle sometimes with the mainstream. But when they get into theater they find their niche and it really empowers them.”
Clifton explained that the new program will focus on three different age groups: the first for kids ages 6-9, a second for 10-13-year-olds and a third for older students ages 12-18. She said all three groups will have chances to learn about not only acting, but also set, costume and sound design, and spend each 10-week session working toward a final production that will be held on the Vintage main stage.
“That will give these kids the skills to audition for seasonal main stage shows at our theater, which is going to be really neat,” Clifton said.
For the program’s opening session, the youngest of the three groups will be working on performing a stage adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“For the younger kids we’ll dabble in set design and they’ll help make their own costumes, and with the older kids we’ll have a set designer coming in, talking to them and leading them into implementation,” Clifton said.
Starting this month, the 10-13-year-olds will begin producing the character-centered “Murder at the Hotel Misalliance,” and the teenage squad will adapt a variety of quirky theatrical scenes into a “Twilight Zone”-style mashup. The two younger groups cost $175 per program participant and offer two hours of weekly instruction, while the older group, entitled “Acting Up,” is slated to cost each student $250 and provide three hours of instruction per week.
To mitigate the cost for some students, Clifton and the Vintage team are offering thousands of dollars in scholarships for deserving enrollees.
“We had an abbreviated youth program at our annual gala last year where we had some performances and we wanted to be able to provide scholarships not only for them but for other individuals in the future, and our regular base has responded,” said Craig Bond, executive director of the Vintage.
Bond said that the theater was able to raise more than $5,000 in scholarship money shortly after announcing the fundraising effort at the gala last fall.
“We raised $5,500 in like the blink of an eye – it was really cool,” he said.
The theater aims to continue to raise funds throughout the year and offer scholarships in increments of at least $50 for those in need.
Bond said offering a youth-centered program is something the Vintage has pondered for years but has hesitated to officially roll out until now.
“We’ve kicked around youth programs for about four years, and we were going to go with it last year, but we wanted to hold off until we understood more of what the Aurora Fox’s children’s programming was to kind of be a good neighbor,” Bond said.
The Aurora Fox Cultural Arts Center, located just two blocks east of the Vintage, also offers youth theater programs around the city, one of its most successful being The Little Foxes program, which takes place each summer. However, The Little Foxes differs from the VYP in that the Fox holds auditions for roles in Little Foxes productions, while the Vintage will be featuring a payment-based model open to anyone.
“In the summer we have student actors performing in kids shows for a relatively young audience and kids audition for those and we hire those who make it,” said Charles Packard, executive director of the Fox. “That’s totally different than what the Jewish Community Center or Arvada does. We all have very different ways of approaching this programming and sort of different missions.”
Packard said The Fox has also helps provide theatrical outreach to Aurora schools, churches and other community organizations.
“Being as most of the schools we go to don’t have a lot of money to pay, we believe we have a responsibility to augment arts education in public schools any way we can,” Packard said.”Especially when we’re asked, it becomes very important.”
While still in development, Clifton said that the VYP will also aim to take performances to area schools or invite teachers to stop by the physical theater to a catch a performance for a field trip.
“If a teacher wants a workshop and a way to theatrically enhance that unit of study for their class, as long as it’s 30 children or less, I can work with that teacher, and with the help of literature they’ve been using in class, we can create a workshop where an actor of actress can go into school and really boost that area of study,” she said.
Clifton added that rolling out VYP is an exciting step in enhancing the ACAD’s already bustling theater scene.
“I think it’s really exciting and I’m so happy that we’ve got so many venues that are offering things for youth and children,” she said. “In my opinion, theater begets theater or arts begets art.”
The Vintage joins the Aurora Fox Cultural Arts Center, and soon-to-be stages in the ACAD studios at 1400 Dallas St. and at 9999 E. Colfax as theater venues within the district.
While final statistics for 2014 have yet to be calculated, the ACAD hosted 75,000 visitors in 2013, a number expected to have surpassed 100,000 last year, according to Tracy Weil, executive director of the ACAD.