Voices fill the air with laughter, conversation, singing and music. The conversation soon fades into the background, creating a quiet and calm atmosphere for the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio rehearsal.
The studio, directed by Kevin Jones, has taught youths in the Roanoke Valley what professional live theater is all about for 13 years and provided free theater for the public for 12. Now, the studio actors are hard at work preparing for the production of "Opening Doors," a show that gives the actors experience of what professional theater is.
Jones said he enjoys molding the kids who come through his program. He spends time with the actors, helping each individual find his/her strong point in theater and then run with it. Through the studio, Jones has created a way to provide education about live theater, and gives the students experience with professional productions.
Ethan Nichols, a junior at Hidden Valley High School, is a fourth-year participant. He was in a summer camp with Jones when he was asked to join the studio.
"I was flattered. Ever since I was 3 I was into theater, but haven't seriously gotten into shows until recently. Now I audition for any show, even if [the directors] aren't calling for a child, it's more of a learning experience," Nichols said.
The production of "Opening Doors" is a favorite among the studio actors because of the variety within the show itself. The show has a set theme each year, but doesn't follow a story line so there is a wide selection of music, costume changes and roles for the young actors to experience. The actors also enjoy the show because Jones keeps it a surprise for the audience. Occasionally Jones will announce individual numbers for the show but many remain a secret. Nichols said it draws a larger audience, not just family and close friends. It also brings curious theatergoers to the youth production.
"Being on stage is not only my favorite thing to do, but is also the best feeling in the world because you know the people are there to have a good time and see what you are doing. I love acting and getting to know the character," Nichols said. "When I'm on stage, I'm not myself, I'm the actual character."
"Opening Doors" allows the studio members to have a taste of Broadway and have their own spotlight. Caitlin Carter, an eighth- grader at Cave Spring Middle School, is pursuing her third year in the studio.
"I've learned so much. I'm a totally different person than I was three years ago. I have confidence and a love for musical theater that I was not as passionate about before," Carter said.
Carter also said her favorite part of the studio is the intensity of rehearsals. Though not all of the members may enjoy them, she likes how it forces everyone to dig deep into the music and technique, making them all better performers.
Third-year performer Mason Early, a senior at Cave Spring High School, has been acting since seventh grade and came to Jones' studio through an audition. He said he is looking to continue acting after high school and thinks that being a part of the studio gives him a big advantage.
"He really trains you and prepares you for what a professional show will be like. I don't really get stage fright anymore, I feel prepared and ready for the show and focused on giving the audience the best show I can," Early said.
Early said he loves the stage, giving a performance for people, and meeting so many people who love theater. The community is supportive and outgoing.
"Theater is practically my entire life. Without it, I would have nothing," Early said.
Nichols described theater as being like a family. He said everyone loves one another and even though there is a wide range of expertise, they all are able to come together to perform.
"An intense rehearsal will involve a little bit of stress, sore feet and sore throat, but in the end it's all worth it," Carter said. "The very last moment when you do your bow and then everyone's cheering and you're waving to the crowd as the curtain goes down ... Just that rush and realization that you did it. You've reached the finish line. You and your friends have put on an amazing show - that makes it all worth it."
"Opening Doors" will take place on Oct. 26 at Jefferson Center in Roanoke, with one performance at 2 p.m. and another at 7 p.m. It is a free event, but tickets are required. Tickets are available at the Jefferson Center box office. More information about the show and studio can be found at www.kjpas.com/.
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