January Quarterly Newsletter
Hello Friends and Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season and are jumping into the New Year with joy and anticipation of great things to come at Studio East. We have so much to look forward to as we continue our 25th Anniversary season.
I’d like to share a few highlights from the last few months:
- September brought with it the launch of our new program Studio Foundations (more on that later), its sister program The Studio Intensive, and all of our after school and homeschool classes. Including Mainstage, we had over 6,000 kids in classes this quarter.
- In October, we performed the first show of our 25th Mainstage season, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It was an honor to share this production once again, and the weight of its message – to find hope, even against all odds – felt more powerful and emotional than ever.
- Also in October, we premiered The Tortoise & the Hare, a brand new StoryBook Theater musical. With catchy songs about doing your best and being yourself, this new show had a fantastic response from the community. Did you see the bus ads?!
- We kicked off November with our annual Jest for Funds auction. The theme this year was celebrating 25 years in the community, and with your help, we raised over $165,000. We were blown away by all the new faces, many fantastic donations, and the great response we received.
- Finally, we put on our annual holiday shows – ‘Twas the Night… at Studio East and The Elves & the Toymakers at StoryBook Theater.
Coming off such a great quarter, here’s what we have coming up in the New Year:
- Once On This Island returned to our Mainstage January 26th and runs through February 10th with an absolutely stellar directing team. We have Faith Bennett Russell directing, David Duvall musically directing and Andrew Coopman choreographing. These three Studio favorites are so talented and the cast is having a blast working with them.
- Later in March, we will be performing our annual Shakespeare show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a few weeks later, Into the Woods will hit the stage.
- This January, StoryBook Theater debuted its new sensory-friendly shows. We were recently granted the funds from Safeco Insurance Fund to bring these special shows to life. Our musical Pinocchio is the first of these sensory-friendly shows, followed by Rapunzel in the spring.
All of these endeavors would not be possible without the support and involvement from all of you. So many of you help in so many different ways. You’ve volunteered at our auction, helped backstage, given financially and even participated in shows. It’s so wonderful to celebrate the arts together and to make sure our children are getting as many opportunities in the performing arts as possible. Everyone here believes the arts enhance our lives on many different levels – we’re grateful you do too.
Executive Artistic Director
TOTAL IMPACT NUMBERS Sept ’17 – Dec ’17
Students & Audiences
FINANCIAL REPORT Sept ’17 – Dec ’17
A 25th Anniversary Auction Celebration
On November 11th, 2017, we held our annual auction for Studio East and StoryBook Theater. This year’s theme focused on our 25th Anniversary. We toasted with fine wines, enjoyed a gourmet meal, dashed for our desserts, and raised a lot of money for the Studio. All in all, it was a tremendous success. We were able to reach more donors and more new guests than ever before, and our generous participants raised over $165,000 during the night’s silent auctions and live auction.
Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated with us, thank you to every volunteer and staff member for helping make our 25th Anniversary Auction such a smashing success, and thank you to every donor for reaching out and helping support the Studio. We are privileged to do the work that we do. We look forward to a whole new year of working with young people and helping them reach their potential through the performing arts.
A Powerful and Emotional Fall Production, I Never Saw Another Butterfly – with Abby Duke Eagleson
Studio East first produced the powerful play, I Never Saw Another Butterfly in 1996, with seventh grader Abby Duke Eagleson cast as the young female lead, Raja. Twenty-one years later, Abby returned to the Studio East stage in the role of the selfless teacher, Irena, in last Fall’s production of Butterfly, the haunting story of the children housed at the Terezin concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Abby has taught theater for years, starting at Studio East, so to come back and play a role of a teacher wasn’t a stretch for her. “I’ve taught, I’ve lived, I’ve been a teacher, so to play the teacher I didn’t really feel like I was acting,” says Abby.
The parallel between teaching kids at Studio East and playing the teacher at Terezin made Abby emotional. “It’s interesting because since I have been teaching for so long and it all started here at Studio East, that to play a teacher, I can completely empathize with her. Because how do you help these kids? All you can do is give them art, give them life, give them creativity.”
During rehearsals for Butterfly, Abby recalls how she helped the kids get into character by giving them little assignments for each show and pretending to give them grades. “We had a lot of fun and I realized that was what Irena was trying to do. She was trying to teach, which I was trying to do as an actor – to teach these kids how do you act – and then try to bring joy into their lives.”
Heavy topics with young people
For this particular show, the cast bonds in a different way than other shows. They are researching and acting out true, unfathomable stories of children their ages. “It hits each kid in a different way at a different time,” says Abby.
The Holocaust is a heavy topic for young people. But they get it. “Kids are resilient; kids are smart,” says Abby. “That’s why Studio East does what it does – you give it to them straight and the fact that they are saying words that somebody their age wrote down – you have to go there. You have to let yourself imagine what it was like for this person. We are here to help these young actors do that. We’re going there together, not alone.”
Abby spent a lot of time just talking with the young actors about what they were doing and how important it was to tell this story. “I wanted to make sure we were being careful with our focus because it’s an honor to tell this story, it’s a privilege. And for us to take that privilege lightly was not something I was able to let the cast do.”
This is what makes Studio East so unique. Our goal is not just putting on a show for the sake of a show. It’s first and foremost about our mission – to impart life lessons to young actors, to the future.
“Theater is the only vehicle to teach empathy,” remarks Abby. “Theater is the only way to do it. You empathize; you walk in another person’s shoes.” By doing this show, by teaching empathy through acting, the hope is that the future generation can be better. Our young people will have learned to be compassionate, to be understanding, and to never let things like the tragedies of history happen again.
A highlight for Abby was working so closely with Executive Artistic Director Lani Brockman. Having grown up with Lani teaching and directing her, she counted it a privilege to get to team up for this production together. “I grew up admiring her,” says Abby. She remarks how Lani always treats the kids as equals, so that when you do become an adult and come back, it’s a fluid and seamless transition. This speaks to the family aspect of the Studio. Many alumni have come back to teach, to act, to participate in the Studio’s work in some form or another. It’s one of the things that makes Studio East so unique.
On including humor in such a dark topic
“We have to. In order to survive, you have to get past all of the bad stuff, because it’s not going away. Because of the pain and suffering, there has to be joy. There can’t be just one. If you have sadness you have to have humor,” says Abby. This is what the story of Terezin is all about really. It was a teacher who helped the children see life and hope in a bleak world. By including teenagers in love, and the humor that comes from that, the bitter pill of history is easier for the audience to swallow. Similarly, the teacher Irena brought art and creativity to the children of Terezin, so that their days could be filled with hope and light.
Looking Ahead to more Butterfly productions
“I don’t think I’m done with Irena. I think that story needs to be told again,” says Abby. “I would definitely do it again.”
Abby believes that in telling this story, in putting on this play with young actors every few years, it’s a way of passing the baton. To tell the story so that it may never happen again. Abby tears up as she repeats her closing lines of the play – “It was all about how we have to do this together, we are in it together.” Irena was selfless, and granted the children hope and joy in the midst of the worst circumstances life could possible throw at them. She loved the kids, and she gave herself to their cause.
Studio Foundations, our newest education program, and the 11-year-old who inspired itThis past September, we started a brand new program in our education department. Studio Foundations, the sister program to the Studio Intensive, is a school year program held on Saturdays for theater students ages 10-12 who want to pursue a focused course of study in theater. The program builds acting, voice, and dance skills over the course of nine months. Taught by working professionals, the curriculum intentionally challenges and supports the students.
Charlie Bovey, 11, along with her mom, Annette Bovey inspired this program. Charlie has been acting at Studio East for years, including five years of ‘Twas the Night. This past summer, they began looking into more theater classes . “She was chomping at the bit to get a more formalized training,” her mom explains. They looked into other programs in the area, but Charlie was set on sticking with her Studio family.
So, one day, they mentioned it to Lani, and the idea of Studio Foundations was off the ground and running. As Annette puts it, “Charlie was over the moon to still be at her home studio.”
“I have always thought where there is a need, create a program,” says Lani. “We have had great luck with that. Same thing happened with the Intensive.”
Studio East Education Director Kristina S. Rowell adds that there was an immediate interest among many other families and students. In a few short weeks, the class was full with a waitlist. “It’s a perfect step for young actors to take before entering something like Studio Intensive or YAPI (Young Adults Professional Intensive),” says Kristina. It just made sense to add it to Studio East’s education program.
“The ongoing education is so important to these kids that want more than just a quarterly class,” says Lani. “It’s a perfect way to get ready for the six week summer intensive, YAPI.”
Over the past few months, Charlie has thrived in the family atmosphere of Studio Foundations. Annette says she has been improving every week, her confidence level is higher, her poise is greater and she is learning to take risks in character development.
“We think so much of the staff, the caliber of the instructors that are there,” says Annette.
We are thrilled the program has been received so well, and we are excited to continue to see it grow through the rest of the year and into the years to come. If you are interested in your child being a part of Studio Foundations in the future, visit our website here.
The Tortoise & the Hare – a new musical for StoryBook’s 20th season
It’s not every year we get to present a brand new StoryBook Theater show. But what better way to kick off our momentous 20th season? StoryBook’s The Tortoise & the Hare was adapted by Lani Brockman with music and lyrics by Susan Bardsley, the power duo we all know and love. This was their first new show since The Elves & the Toymakers three years ago.
The Tortoise & the Hare performed in Renton, Kirkland, Everett, Shoreline and Fremont in October and November to great crowds. With five stellar StoryBook actors, the interactive musical was well-received by the community. With catchy songs like “You Matter,” the message of “Be Yourself and Do Your Best” was perfect for young audiences.
On what it takes to create an original StoryBook Theater musical
For Lani, the writing process started a year ago, in January of 2017. As with many of the StoryBook shows, it’s not simply stretching a short paragraph story into a 55-minute musical. She wanted to create something that younger audiences could really understand and apply to their own lives. The Aesop’s Fable version famously ends with the moral – “Slow and steady wins the race.” However, Lani wanted more of a focus that kids could understand, so she focused on the character of the Tortoise, who is content in being herself and doing her best.
After the script was completed in June, Sue set to work with the music. In September, the two were put together and with some rewrites, additions, and collaborations with the actors, out came a hilarious, heartwarming musical.
On including big themes for kids
The setting for The Tortoise & the Hare is the first annual Animals for Peace Convention, set in the forest. Each character portrays the spokesman for their specific species. Each character has something that people tend to misjudge, whether it’s the Catfish’s accent, the different-looking suction hands and feet of the Treefrog, the garbage-eating, bad-guy stereotype of the Crow, or the slowness of the Tortoise. Then we have the cocky, results-oriented Hare who is not a very good listener. As is the case with the classic fable, it’s our Hare that learns the valuable lesson. And well, you know how the story goes.
Including themes of prejudice and judgment in children’s theater can be daunting, but live theater provides a vehicle for understanding unlike any other art form. Through songs and animated animal characters, the message of the show – be kind to everyone, we all matter, and do your best – reaches our young audiences in a way that is understandable and meaningful to them.
StoryBook’s The Elves & the Toymakers and Hopelink’s Toy Drive
For the third holiday season, StoryBook Theater, the professional musical touring arm of Studio East, partnered with Hopelink to host a toy parade during their holiday musical, The Elves & the Toymakers. Thanks to the generosity of StoryBook Theater audiences, Studio East was able to collect hundreds of toys for Hopelink to distribute to low-income families in the area.
As with all StoryBook Theater shows, The Elves & the Toymakers is an original musical aimed at children from ages 3 – 10, and was created by the writing team of Lani Brockman and Susan Bardsley. This annual holiday show focuses on the Spirit of Giving, and children are encouraged to bring new toys to the show. In the middle of the musical, they are invited on stage to participate in a toy parade and give their toys to the actors portraying the Elves. It’s the spirit of giving in action.
StoryBook Theater is always looking for ways to interact with their audiences and get involved in the community. They have found that live theater creates unique opportunities for children to experience life lessons and thus, they make an effort to demonstrate those through their interactive musicals.
Once On This Island – Now Playing at Studio East
We are excited to bring back the non-stop Caribbean song and dance musical, Once On This Island. You might recognize the title from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, where the current Broadway cast performed a medley of songs from the show. The Studio last produced this musical in our old space during the 2009-10 season, but one thing is still the same – Faith Bennett Russell returns as our director. We feel very fortunate that the Studio students had the chance to work with Faith, as she is quite gifted at what she does.
David Duvall and Andrew Coopman, both very talented and well-loved by Studio East students, provided musical direction and choreography respectively. With this incredible directing trio and with the musical’s themes of travel, love, family, and dance, Once On This Island is a spectacular show you won’t want to miss! Performances run January 26 – February 10.
Pinocchio – StoryBook Theater’s winter musical and first sensory-friendly shows
New and exciting ventures are in store for StoryBook Theater this winter. We are opening the New Year with one of our favorite shows, Pinocchio, and we are also launching our first sensory-friendly performances. We firmly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the magic of live theater. Thanks to a partnership with Safeco Insurance Fund, we are able to make our shows accessible to more young people.
Our first sensory-friendly show of Pinocchio was on January 27th at Renton Carco Theatre and our next will be on February 4th at Kirkland Performance Center. These performances will be geared towards individuals with autism, neurodiversity, Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome and other sensory processing disorders and special needs. They will have lower sound levels, increased lighting in seating areas, trained ushers and staff, and a designated quiet area.
Thank you for reading our January 2018 Quarterly Newsletter! Your support enables us to keep working to create confident, compassionate, responsible young people through the performing arts. We couldn’t do this without you.