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Families act up at community theater

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By mounting a breathtaking 15 to 18 live productions a year, every day is busy at Highland Village’s nonprofit Studio B Performing Arts Center.  The place buzzes with after-school, evening, and summer vacation action.

“We serve families and family audiences,” Executive Director DeAnna McDearmont says ahead of an energetic thud on the other side of her office wall.  A shelved trophy and basketball wobble then fall on her desk before they bounce and clatter on the tile floor.  “The dancers next door!” she laughs.

Behind a closed door across the hall a teenage singer rehearses with Studio B’s Music Director at the piano.  The sounds of a pair of boys teasing each other reverberate off the cavernous theater foyer walls and ceiling.  The scrapes and rustles of straightening-up sounds drift out of the costume room across the foyer from the dim box office.  A girl sits on the open stairs up to classrooms that overlook the stage and auditorium through floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in heavy black curtains.

The heart of the theater is McDearmont’s office, a rectangular black box relieved by one maroon wall behind her desk.  A set of four black steps ascends the rear wall to the tech booth, a smaller equally black room where teens who prefer backstage action get hands-on experience with the computer that controls theater sound and lighting.  The black door behind McDearmont’s chair opens into the dark– you guessed it, black– two story auditorium with its big bright stage and seating for 115.

“Community theater has a large audience here in southern Denton County,” McDearmont says.

Studio B’s staff of 8 experienced instructors/directors teach and mentor about 500 local students, aged 4 to mature adult, each semester.

“We had one production in which every member of four different families was on stage,” she says, “That was a lot of fun, and satisfying.  My husband (Dr. Scott McDearmont, former Highland Village mayor and avowed non-actor) got started in The Little Mermaid because casting needed a big guy to heft around kids.”

A typical show at Studio B entails 6 weeks of rehearsals 4 times a week, and an average of 6 performances.  This summer alone Studio B will produce 6 shows.  People of all ages are welcome to audition for parts.  “Fiddler on the Roof was a big production with 48 cast members plus all the offstage crew.

Bigger expensive productions might require a costume or performance fee to participate,” McDearmont says.  Studio B has some scholarship funds available. “We don’t turn away committed children for lack of funds,” McDearmont says.

“Our force of volunteer seamstresses and carpenters make costumes, props and settings, but sometimes we have to use rentals.  We also collaborate with other theaters to share costumes, props and settings.  That helps us control costs.”

In addition to stage productions, Studio B offers tuition-based classes, workshops and summer camps that teach musical theater, vocal technique, audition skills, stage makeup, improvisation, and characterization.

“Improvisation,” McDearmont says, “is important when something unexpected happens mid-performance.  The show doesn’t stop for errors or accidents.  Improv is a learned skill that often produces comedy.”  Characterization is how actors and actresses set their own personalities aside then slip into a role with conviction.

Theater classes meet once a week for 12 weeks.  A class lasts 1-2 hours depending on the age of the students.  The staff offers a roster of 8-9 classes each semester.  Workshops are a comprehensive production experience in which students run every aspect of a show.  Studio B offers 2 production workshops a year.  The workshop culminates with a musical show.

“Our summer camps are a day-long, 2 week experience that winds up with a short musical show,” McDearmont says.

Each year Studio B produces two shows for adult performers aged 18 and older. 

“We stick with classic scripts in keeping with our family audience orientation,” she says.  “We also do community theater productions which are open to everyone regardless of age.”

A typical actor or actress comes to audition with a prepared 1 minute monologue.  For musical productions the audition includes 16-32 bars of a song from some musical, and live or recorded accompaniment arranged by the actor/actress.  Sometimes the show’s director will ask the actor/actress to do a cold reading from the show script.  Last of all actors and actresses submit an acting résumé.  It may be simple, and usually includes a head shot photo.

“We call a very young actor or actress a mini,” McDearmont says with a smile, “they usually audition by reciting a poem.  Shows put on by our minis are more like recitals.  Parents love them.”  Studio B’s older children are known to the world as its Stars.

Part of the Executive Director’s job is to select possible shows then submit a list to the Theater Committee who make the final decision.  “Obtaining rights to mount a performance is fairly complicated,” McDearmont says.  “Writers use middleman companies to market scripts, and make sure performances do not overlap in a given market.”  If a show is playing on Broadway, for example, no other performances are allowed until the Broadway production shuts down.

“We’re always happy to consider scripts from local writers also,” McDearmont says.

McDearmont, who has two children aged 12 and 17, says what she likes best about the experience is its wholesomeness.  “This is a safe place for our kids to have fun, and experience all the aspects of a live show:  the singing, acting, dancing, building, costuming, makeup, stage technology, show and theater management, ticket sales, and concessions.  There’s a place here for children and adults with interest and some commitment.”

Studio B houses a physical box office, but performances generally sell out in advance.  Ticket prices range from $10-15.  Obtain ticket information online at www.studiobtheater.info.

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