Life’s a stage for theatrical youth

[attach]3626[/attach]Gail Milgrom always thought her daughter Michaela had a nice little voice, so when the 15 year old expressed interest in auditioning for a musical with Toronto Youth Theatre she agreed to sign her up.

Little did Milgrom know what was in store for her daughter.

“It turns out she has a great big voice,” says the proud mom.

That voice led Michaela to land the first of many parts at the theatre. Two years and seven productions later, Michaela has never looked back.

“That first musical was the most amazing experience and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Michaela says.

That’s what Toronto Youth Theatre is banking on. It is one of several youth theatre companies in Toronto that connect students with professionals from the industry to provide an intense hands-on learning and social experience.

“Students are auditioned and are highly focused young people with a passion for performance,” says Tom Carson, the theatre’s executive director.

Located in downtown Toronto, Toronto Youth Theatre focuses on musical performance with a senior company (14-20 years) and junior company (7-13 years).

Each show takes eight to 12 weeks to mount and rehearsals are usually held on two weeknights and a full weekend day each week.

After seeing her daughter blossom on stage, Milgrom now encourages parents to help children who express an interest to get involved. She said beyond the skills Michaela has learned, the theatre program opened her daughter’s world to new people and new opportunities.

“They meet a new group of friends and because they all want the show to be good they are really supportive of each other,” she says. “It’s really wonderful to see.”

The Toronto Youth Theatre isn’t the only show in town. In neighbourhoods across the city, theatre schools offer many programs that aim to nurture imaginative thinking and develop skills. At Leaside’s Bravo Academy, parents can find beginner classes for all ages, where students work toward an end-of-year cabaret style show. More experienced performers (10-13 or 13-21 years of age) can audition for the senior musicals and perform in a full-length main stage musical production.

All of these schools strive to provide a nurturing environment where kids can feel comfortable exploring their creative selves. As parents though, you need to ensure theatre school is the right fit before opening your chequebook.

If your child wants to audition for one of the more intensive programs, make sure you first discuss the commitment involved. Because the goal for schools like Toronto Youth Theatre is to give students a professional experience, shows are produced quickly and with substantial time commitment. Your child will still have to fit in homework and other priorities. On the up side, Michaela has found that her marks actually improve when she is doing a show.

“I know I have to be organized about when I do what,” she says. “When I’m not doing a show I often find myself wasting time watching TV or doing something not so productive. I have less down time, but if you love it as much as I do, it doesn’t matter.”

Milgrom agrees.

Despite the extra driving and dinners in the car, Milgrom has found her daughter’s theatrical experiences very rewarding.

“When the lights go up it’s a real thrill,” Milgrom says. “I love watching the kids and how they have developed.”

The theatrical experience can benefit youth immensely, even if they do not aspire to become professional performers, Carson says.

“We believe that the creative process holds power for personal development and growth,” he says.

Despite the thrill of performance, Michaela is still not ready to commit to a life of theatre.

“It will definitely always be a big part of my life and I know I will be able to bring it to whatever I end up doing.”

Dedication, commitment, passion … I have learned to respect the level of success that can be achieved if you are committed.”