We recently caught up with our West Side Story lead characters, Maria and Tony, better known to the public as Lauren Gutierrez and Ben Cleaver, to chat about their experience with the Academy Center of the Arts’ Encore Youth Theatre program.
“Auditioning for the role of Maria was an amazing experience,” said Lauren, a rising junior at Liberty Christian Academy. “I heard about the production through a close friend, and we decided to audition together.” After she got the role, “rehearsals really started to pick up, and now it’s all about cleaning and making sure everything is perfect [for a] spectacular performance!”
As far as Lauren’s thoughts on the program as a whole, she says “rehearsing with all of the amazing actors and directors [has] been such an interesting experience” for her. She’s been able to build and refine her skills during the process as well. “With singing, my whole range has gone up, and with acting, I’m now able to look at a scene and find what is the true meaning and the point.”
When asked if she would return to Encore in the future, Lauren smiled from ear to ear, explaining that her experience has changed her life. “Because of my time here, I’ve recently decided that I want to be a theatre major in college and that this I what I really want to do. I love every single part of this!”
“[Encore] has been an amazing place for me to explore my talents.”
Both Ben and Lauren, like many of the others in Encore Youth Theatre, are first time participants in our program.
“Auditioning for the role of Tony pushed me outside of my comfort zone,” said Ben, a rising junior at Heritage High School. “I didn’t have much theatre experience going in,” citing just a year and a half of time spent on his craft, “but overall it’s been a fun, stress-free environment to learn in thus far!”
Like Lauren, Ben also had a few words of wisdom to those young actors interested in Encore Youth Theatre. “Even with my limited background in theatre, I was able to land a lead role in West Side Story, and what that proves is that you don’t have to have 10 years of dancing and singing lessons to be a big character in a big show. I definitely encourage all of the young people out there to push their limits and audition for as many shows as they can, because this is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss out on.”
As far as the show itself, “our cast is composed of some of the most talented youth in our community. We have 38 students whose dedication and talent can rival that of adults,” said Kelly Posenauer, Director of Education at the Academy Center of the Arts. The Director, Michelle Velastegui, is on her sixth Encore Youth Theatre season here, and has helped create an unforgettable show with musical direction from Dashay Glover and choreography from Ronnie Brady and Casi Briggs, as well as technical direction from Jeff Wagoner, and teaching assistance from Jacob Beasley, Adell Ehrhorn, DaShay Glover, Geoffrey Kershner, and Nora Moore.
“The culmination of all of their hard work will be best viewed on the West Side Story Stage this weekend!
Make sure to head out to see Encore Youth Theatre’s 2017 production of West Side Story this Friday through Sunday and catch Ben, Lauren, and the rest of the talented West Side Story cast in this amazing production! Tickets can be reserved online or by calling our Box Office at (434) 846-TIXX (8499).