BWW Features/Interviews: Act Two @ Levine Gearing Up for Yet Another Ambitious Year Training DC's Youth

Previously, BroadwayWorld DC reported on a dynamic musical theatre training program for the DC Metro Area's youth at Levine, a well-respected community music school. Previously staging ambitious musicals such as Rent and Next to Normal, Act Two @ Levine, under the direction of Kevin Kuchar, proves that it certainly does not back away from a challenge, nor does it rest on its laurels. If its 2013-2014 season is any indication of the program's future, it's getting more ambitious and all-encompassing if anything. Now offering three training programs for students at all experience levels, which feature partnerships with well-respected arts institutions in the area, the initiative is growing in an astounding way. As the students take part in full theatrical productions and work with some of DC and Broadway's best, they have fun while learning skills that can prepare them for a future in the theatre - which some ultimately choose to pursue - and other skills like teamwork and hard-work that can be applied in all areas of their current and future lives.

This year's three training programs will feature a total of six full theatrical productions which are developed in a professional yet nurturing atmosphere. Whether one is a really talented high school student and participates in the Pre-Professional Program, a musical theatre-loving middle school or high school student eager to take part in a Mainstage production, or a middle schooler taking part in the new First Act Program, there are options to explore.

This year, Act Two @ Levine continues to host a selective, audition-based, process-oriented, and intensive Pre-Professional Program for high school students. This year's cast members will tackle three contemporary award-winning musicals - a stirring drama, a satire, and a hilarious comedy - performing in two of them and then learning about other technical/administrative/creative aspects of putting on a theatrical production through a third apprenticeship. On the slate is Jason Robert Brown (Music and Lyrics) and Alfred Uhry's (Book) historical drama Parade, which will receive performances on January 31-February 2, 2014 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater's newest space, the intimate Kogod Cradle. The talented teens follow this up with a production of the socially-conscious Urinetown at DC's edgy (and equally ambitious/socially-conscious) Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's Rehearsal Hall on March 7-9, 2014. It's a solid fit for the venue to be sure. Last up is Eric Idle's Spamalot - ripped off from a classic Monty Python film - which will be in production at the THEARC Theater in Southeast, DC on May 2-4, 2014. An eclectic mix of shows, no?

Act Two @ Levine also continues its successful and popular Mainstage Program, which offers middle school and high school students of all levels to experience the thrill of putting on a full production while also learning valuable theatre skills. Such skills include 'understanding your character,' voice, and movement. This year's show - also a Tony Award winner - is In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Music and Lyrics) and Quiara Alegría Hudes' heartwarming yet musically diverse exploration of life in Washington Heights, a primarily Latin neighborhood in New York City. I've complained in recent years that this particular show has not been done enough - if at all - in the DC area since it premiered on Broadway while some of its contemporaries get multiple productions. As such, I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the students bring this one to life at Georgetown Prep's Figge Theatre in North Bethesda, MD on November 15-17, 2013.

This year also features a new program, First Act, that's specifically geared to middle school students. The participants will take on Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music) and Tim Rice's (Lyrics) seemingly endlessly popular Biblically-inspired Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a 'to be determined' location in the arts-rich Montgomery County, MD, on January 10-12, 2014. They'll also deal with that man-eating plant in Alan Menken (Music) and Howard Ashman's (Book and Lyrics) Little Shop of Horrors at Roundhouse Theatre's space in Silver Spring, MD on April 25-27, 2014. Through each of these experiences, the students will get a taste of putting on a show in a professional environment while learning an array of theatre skills.

As if the chance to put on a full theatrical production - many times at one of the area's most renowned theatres where the greats have worked - isn't enough, Act Two @ Levine also has plenty of other educational opportunities for its participants in conjunction with some of the most established arts institutions in the area.

For example, this year's Pre-Professional Program participants will participate in table reads - a standard element in putting together a professional production - of their three shows at Arena Stage in late September. Later in the season, these students will have the chance to perform songs from their three shows in front of panel of leaders in the DC theatre community in a jury setting. Arena Stage will also play host to this event. The Mainstage Program participants will also have a chance to work with some of the best in the DC arts community, in particular the dance community. CityDance will be Act 2's choreographer in residence this year and will provide choreography for the Mainstage production of In the Heights. The chance to work with professional choreographers - in particular on a show that's as movement-heavy as In the Heights - is an invaluable educational opportunity.

There are also workshops/master classes aplenty at one of DC's most sought after concert and performance venues. Cabaret star and Tony Award-nominee Ann Hampton Callaway will coach Act Two participants at the Music Center at Strathmore while she's in town to perform there with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in October 2013. Also in October, Act Two's Pre-Professional Program members will participate in a master class with Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster in conjunction with her concert appearance at Strathmore; this is sure to be an event for them to remember (and I must say I am a little jealous!!). Act Two students will return to Strathmore again on January 16 to take part in a public master class with Broadway musician Cynthia Kortman Westphal, who was associate music director, conductor, and keyboard player in the original company of the Disney blockbuster Broadway musical The Lion King. Ms. Westphal also played in the Broadway orchestra of Miss Saigon, has toured with Andrea Bocelli, and played with some of the country's best orchestras. Working with renowned singers, Broadway actors and musicians? These 'hands on' classes certainly cover the gamut.

Given the depth of the programming, BroadwayWorld DC asked Kevin Kuchar about the value of maintaining partnerships with institutions like Arena Stage, Roundhouse Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the Music Center at Strathmore, and CityDance. Kuchar emphasized that these partnerships do more than just distinguish Act Two from other theatre educational groups in the area, of which there are many. He acknowledged, however, that because "there are so many options [for theatre education], it is vital that we continue to challenge ourselves to evolve what we teach and how we teach it." He added that "it's not just about 'saying' we offer the best experience for our cast members; anyone can make that claim [and] I think we have to be able to back that up." As a result, Kuchar emphasizes that Act Two "strives to create seasons that are compelling artistically and that offer a great deal educationally. That means thinking outside the box and inviting working artists into our process. It's precisely because of those collaborations that we are able to create such a great process [and] one that is entirely unique." As Kuchar aptly points out, the juried performances and other experiences with visiting artists gives Act Two "the ability to mirror much of the professional process for our students in ways that are entirely different from what has been the long time accepted model for training young artists" which has "obvious value" to the trainee.

Kuchar, however, is not the only one excited about the opportunities that Act Two will provide its participants with this year. DC BroadwayWorld asked some of the young theatre talent that will partake in this year's offerings why they were participating and what they were most looking forward to this year. A common theme throughout is anticipation and excitement for the season to begin and a recognition that the program offers more than just opportunities to hone their theatrical craft as important as that is. Friendships, ability to collaborate? Those are important too.

Here are the responses:

Eitan Mazia (Pre-Professional Program - Cast Member/Technical Crew)

I am participating in this fantastic program to improve as an actor and work on my craft. Kevin and Rachel [D'Amboise - Act Two @ Levine's Production Coordinator) teach me so much about musical theatre, and that kind of expert training is what I ultimately need to become a better, more seasoned performer. The Pre-Professional program is the perfect environment for high school students who want to pursue musical theatre as a career, and desire high level training. I have made so many close friends in the cast, and our tight relationships help us create real, raw performances on the stage together. I am most looking forward to meeting the new Pre-Professional members and getting to know them over the rehearsal process. It's always fun to meet new friends who have their own skills and talents that I can learn from. I can absorb so much information and techniques by simply watching my fellow cast members do their amazing work.

Audrey Rinehart (Pre-Professional Program - Cast Member/Publicity Apprentice and Intern)

This year I decided to participate again in Act Two @ Levine because of the many amazing opportunities I encountered last year, such as master classes, the chance to perform, and the opportunity to learn the ropes of my public relations (PR) apprenticeship. I had a great time throughout the entire process of working as a group to put a show together. I think this program is one of the coolest programs in which I've ever been involved, because it is different than any other. Not many high school students get the chance to put on three shows in a season and also get training/feedback from professionals in the field. This year I'm overly grateful because Rachel and Kevin have given me an internship in the PR department at Act II. Although I will still be a part of the performances, I am so lucky to be involved with running the blog and other social media sites, as well as conducting interviews and taking videos. I'm mostly looking forward to the master class with Sutton Foster, not only because I'm hoping my internship will allow me to interview her for the blog, but also because I'm thrilled for the opportunity to receive her critique.

Noah Kieserman (Pre-Professional Program)

I am participating in the upcoming 2013-2014 pre-professional season after having an enriching experience last season, being given the opportunity to expand my horizons as an actor. In the Act Two @ Levine pre-professional program, the staff encourages creativity and bringing originality to a role so the production you are working on is not necessarily the same production being put on elsewhere. The program also provides you with the chance to work with a variety of students who share a similar passion for the theater. The two things I am looking forward to the most this year are, of course, performing in the incredible Kogod Cradle space at the Arena Stage, as well as seeing what kind of ideas the new members can bring to the table this year.

Carley Rosefelt (Mainstage Program)

"In the Heights" is not only one of my favorite musicals, but being able to work on it with one of my favorite theater teachers Kevin Kuchar and the wonderful family at Act Two @ Levine is an opportunity I could not pass up. The great thing about the program is that it is not only geared towards preparing the show, but focuses on the groundwork of our acting training and is a learning experience. Besides the performance aspect of being in the project we are also exposed to many other focuses such as tech, lighting, and costuming giving us a view of the entire production process and bringing us together as a team, which I believe is very valuable. I'm most looking forward to working with my peers who inspire and motivate me to work harder at this craft and bring the joy into performing.

Justin Marks (First Act Program)

I am participating in the First Act because I would like to strengthen my acting and singing abilities with the reward of performing on stage. I know I will love being involved in the First Act Program because Kevin Kuchar and the Levine School coaches are the best instructors and mentors. I have been performing with Act Two for 6 years, since I was 7 years old. Kevin directs incredible shows that everyone loves and has the unique ability to bring out the talents of each cast member. The music directors from the Levine school and all the other crew involved in the show are top notch. I am excited to be a part of First Act because I will participate in a full year intensive program and perform in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Little Shop of Horrors". I also will gain many friendships and become very close with the cast and crew. It is a great group of kids and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I can't wait for the season!

Ari Goodfriend (First Act)

It's great to have a theater program for younger kids. Usually, you can't get a great theater experience until you are older, but the First Act Program will allow younger children to develop their love of theater in a more advanced environment. I think the program will be more intensive and informative than prior programs I participated in, but working with Kevin and the rest of the team is always a great experience. I also am looking forward to performing in a new theater. I am also looking forward to working with the same kids who really love theater all year long.

Photo: Courtesy of Act Two @ Levine. From left to right: Noah Kieserman, Sean Watkinson, Carley Rosefelt, Kayla Dixon, Eitan Mazia, Max Fowler, Arami McCloskey performing "La Vie Boheme" in RENT at the THEARC Theater.

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