Auditions for a new youth theater group in Northeast Iowa were held last month, and eight children ages 10-15 have been selected to participate in the Driftless Youth Theater 2017 Summer Arts Ensemble. Participants will begin meeting this month on Friday afternoons at River Park Place in Guttenberg.
Budding actors were asked to submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher, coach or adult friend highlighting the applicant’s imagination, attitude, and teamwork capabilities, and during auditions performed a required one-minute monologue as well as a 15 second – two-minute joke, song, story, monologue, or speech prepared in advance.
“I chose an audition monologue for all the kids to use, but also asked them to prepare something themselves,” said Driftless Theater leader Jason Tipsword of rural Guttenberg. “I got jokes, a truly impressive song, some Shakespeare, some Lin Manuel Miranda, a JFK speech, and a Chaplin monologue. The variety was most impressive.”
Tipsword was raised in the theater. “My mom began working at Hancher Auditorium when I was nine, but even before that she was part of a theatre company in the Quad Cities. I participated in theatre throughout school, and after college taught, coached, and directed plays at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa.”
He started an action-theatre company in 1998 that toured nationally, working with the company for eleven years. Tipsword spent seven years with The University of Iowa Dance and Opera Production Unit. In 2012, he earned a teaching certification from the Society of American Fight Directors, an internationally recognized non-profit organization dedicated to promoting safety and fostering excellence in the art of stage combat for producers, directors, actors, and teachers.
“I've taught at Drake, Kirkwood Community College, Theatre Cedar Rapids, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fox Valley Repertory Theater, and now the University of Iowa. All told, I’ve worked on over 175 theatrical productions of all kinds, and three films,” Tipsword said.
Tipsword hopes the program will grow in the coming years, and this summer plans to hold public performances including modern, classic and original material. “While I have chosen some material, I hope the kids will choose much of our program. You can expect some monologues, improv, and sketch work. We'll have comedy, drama, and maybe a little music,” he said.
Summer ensemble participants must demonstrate an advanced interested and aptitude in theater arts and will receive training in basic acting, theatrical movement, monologues, audience interaction, team building, scene work, sketch comedy, and material development. The mission of the new program is to encourage and empower young actors to grow as individuals, artists, team members, and people through collaboration, challenge, and imagination
“In my opinion, there are few skills more important in life than the ability to work collaboratively. Anyone that's worked with me before has heard me say, ‘theatre is a team sport.’ It's a kind of personal mantra,” Tipsword explained. “I've been on some fantastic teams – sports, work, and especially on the stage. Much like my other examples, in theatre we work as a team. The main difference is the competition. In theatre we compete with our own imagination and creativity. We succeed or fail on our own efforts rather than our efforts weighed against our opposition's.”
Youth selected for this summer’s Driftless Youth Theater are from Guttenberg, Garnavillo, Elkader, and Volga. There is no cost to participate in the program, which meets weekly from June 16 to Aug. 11. Performances will be announced when they are planned.
Photo courtesy of Pete Carr, Flickr Creative Commons