The Kids' Theater Experience Goes On With the Show All Summer Long

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Photos courtesy of Chris Battaglia Photographytheaterexperience.jpg
The Kids' Theater Experience, a premiere acting program for kids of all ages, is the brainchild of Metuchen residents Ann Marie Mullen, an experienced actress and theater professional, and Beth Lucas, a musician and music educator. As mothers and as cultured citizens, they recognized the need in town for a school solely dedicated to the art of acting as a means of self-expression and a self-esteem builder for young children. Metuchen Matters caught up with them to find out how their first season went and what their plans for the future are, including their camps made possible through the Metuchen Recreation Commission this summer.
What is the philosophy behind THE KIDS THEATER EXPERIENCE? What separates TKTE from other "acting" programs?
TKTE was created to offer kids an opportunity to learn the craft of 'acting' as a school year enrichment program here in Metuchen. We wanted the program to introduce the joys of theater to children who may or may not have experience in performing "straight" acting. I wanted to share the extensive formal training and professional "live stage" experience that I have had in a program designed specifically for children. In our classes, we get to know each student as an individual and "cast" them in scenes and/or monologues that feature them as performers. We strive to offer an environment that allows the students to shine as individuals. In addition, the students learn to take and follow direction and work cooperatively with their peers.
We challenge them to play characters that are similar to them in age and stature, but may exhibit traits that are different from their natural personalities. Depending on their individual level and comfort, we give each of them solo and group work that really shows their natural acting abilities. We give our students plenty of opportunities to perform throughout the year. The more kids perform, the more comfortable they will get on the stage. Each session ends with a showcase that also exhibits their growth as they learn.
What are the myriad of skills that The Kids Theater Experience can afford a young student, besides learning how to act on stage? What are the best goals for young students at this stage of the game?
Children are much more capable of using their natural imaginations and reenacting skills to entertain than they are to even sing or dance collectively -all of these are essential tools used in developing social skills that mold and guide them to becoming an adult with excellent "character."
Acting gives everyone a chance to escape into a fun world, all while challenging the mind to be aware of everything that goes on around them. As a parent, I have learned that the outlet of performing gives kids a great opportunity to gain confidence, take risks and "act out" without getting into trouble. Taking risks is often associated with successful adult hood and who doesn't want that for their kids?! As a performer, I understand all the performance based fears and inhibitions that kids can feel and I like to break the acting skills down simply and to their level so kids can take these techniques and apply them to every day life challenges as well as on stage.
With our youngest students, their goal is to feel a sense of accomplishment that is all their own. They know that I am there on the side of the stage for them if they need me, but ultimately they accomplish their tasks of staying in character and working together on their own. The youngest kids love to get laughs! Actually, they all love to get laughs! When they do, it's so amazing to see! All of them take such pride in accomplishing the goal of entertaining that live audience! They really love it!

By bringing in additional professionals, you are able to present special workshops. Can you tell us about the two from this spring semester?
Our first workshop will feature a professional singer who will share the technical side of the voice and how to enhance [the voice] so it can project and be heard on the live stage. As children, most of them have not yet physically matured and can literally cause permanent damage to their voices if they are not taught proper techniques in breathing, projecting and enunciation. Being a trained singer myself, I respect the young voice and its growing process and want only excellent training for our students. The professional we brought in has the advantage of being fabulous with very young children and has a lot of experience with teaching older kids as well. It should be a great workshop! Our other guest is a professional manager for children in Live Stage/Film and TV. Even though many of our students are most likely not going to continue into the professional acting world, they are still curious to find out what it takes to become a professional.
For our more advanced students, I want to offer them various insights and styles into the world of theater. I'm sure all the kids will feel welcome in this workshop as it is designed to teach another style of acting; in this case, for the film. Our students are going to learn about "cold readings" and audition techniques. These activities will help them if they choose to participate in outside productions with their schools or local theater companies. We encourage our students to participate in outside full scale productions as well study acting with us. I'm sure there are many parents out there who have "wondered" about the professional world of theater for their child. With that, we decided to open these workshops to the community.
We take advantage of bringing in professionals from NYC who wanted to share their experiences and skills with all of us. How do you foresee the program growing in the next few years? Good question, I love to watch how the kids are growing - especially in their confidence and performance abilities, so I want to be sure to offer more advanced skills and provide guest appearances for all current and future students. We have outgrown our wonderful classrooms at The Preschool Experience - to whom, might I add, we owe so much for helping us get started! Therefore, we are continuing our classes at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen on a perfect size stage for kids. Be sure to visit our website for next year's schedule and class times. And since Miss Beth and I are both formally trained in music, we hope to start offering a similar class in musical theater acting for our older students. We will most likely continue to offer performing classes with showcases and not full scale productions -that works really well for us!

What's the nicest thing a parent has said to you after seeing their child blossom through performance?
I think that our TKTE family this year has really gotten to know each of our performers as the parents have watched the entire ensemble blossom throughout the year. I love to see parents congratulating all the kids after our performances as they are all featured to shine in their own right. When the parents talk to me, I think they are truly blown away at their own children's acting abilities. They are not expecting to see them acting so naturally in scenes and monologues that are written for kids their age. As for this year, when our parents see a child who they may know as naturally quiet play a role that is full of confidence and energy their jaws drop to the floor, typically followed by a huge grin. It really gives that child a chance to explore that character and find those qualities they desire within themselves.
Our hope is that the children will continue to explore these qualities in real life too! I tell the kids that as an audience it is our privilege to get to watch them act from a beautifully script like a window into a story that they are telling. When I get to hear the audience audibly sigh or laugh or cry, I know those kids feel that they have made magic on that stage and that is what theater is all about.

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