The ProgramBerkeley Playhouse is rather unique in my experience, in that they have both a professional theater program that does a full season of musicals at the Julia Morgan Theater, but also do productions for kids and teens, where they perform at the same venue. So unlike classes where they finish with a little performance for friends and family, this is actually open to the public and sells tickets.
One of the benefits of that is that they also have a professional director and designers and crew, so they've got costumes, lights, and sound on a stage with a real set. It's definitely a real theatrical performance experience.
For this summer program, the kids jumped right in, and for about 5 weeks studied the songs and music, auditioned for parts, learned their parts and choreography, and generally had a genuine, if condensed, experience putting on a play.
I was also impressed at the way they cast the roles. Since they had about twice as many actors as they had major roles, they double cast everything. So each actor has a meaningful speaking and singing part in one of the casts, and then serves in the ensemble for the other cast. So the program ends with four performances, with each cast leading twice and backing the other twice. That's a great way to make sure every actor gets a "real" part, and they all get the full experience.
The ProductionI had very little in the way of expectations. I've seen a fair number of youth theater productions, and you never quite know what you're going to get. It's highly dependent on who signs up, how the talent matches the given show, etc.
Overall I would say I was quite pleasantly surprised. The actors knew their parts and nearly all delivered them strongly. Also, they were all wearing microphones, so even the weaker singers and speakers were pretty audible, though the sound techs weren't always quite on time turning on the mics. But really, given the length of the rehearsal schedule and the range of experience represented, the opening show this afternoon was quite credible. We could follow the story, track the characters, and all that. And considering that Assassins is not the most comprehensible show to start with, any degree of coherence in this sort of production is pretty impressive.
I give full credit to director Matthew Hannon for putting together a solid program. It was clearly a fun process for the actors, and the end result is something they can all be proud of.
And, if you're interested, you can see the show tomorrow night, August 11th, at either 4:00 or 7:00. It's a fun way to support youth theater!