Young actors take to the screen

Taos Children’s Theater goes virtual with 'The Dancing Princesses'

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 5/5/20

Taos Children’s Theater is living proof that the show must and can still go on.

In response to the COVID-19 lockdown, director Karen Thibodeau and assistant directors Victoria Ortiz and Christopher Heron developed a Zoom format for rehearsing their current production of "The Dancing Princesses." They envisioned a video possibility for the final production, and then it all came together.

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Young actors take to the screen

Taos Children’s Theater goes virtual with 'The Dancing Princesses'

Posted

Taos Children’s Theater is living proof that the show must and can still go on.

In response to the COVID-19 lockdown, director Karen Thibodeau and assistant directors Victoria Ortiz and Christopher Heron developed a Zoom format for rehearsing their current production of "The Dancing Princesses." They envisioned a video possibility for the final production, and then it all came together.

There is more to a Zoom rehearsal process than practicing lines. Behind each of the actor's computer screens you might glimpse a random theater prop, a family dog wandering in, a tour of the actor’s house, a guitar serenade or a show of tired toes from dancing.

Thibodeau said the troupe of 24 were knee-deep in rehearsal for the production of "The Dancing Princesses" when the quarantine order was put in place. "It was sad to think of not continuing. Zoom theater created a greater community that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. It is a way to get more people involved, opening up everyone to bigger worlds. Right now we have three actors from out of state, one from Michigan and two from Texas who were shut out of their school theater productions due to COVID-19 restrictions. They appreciate this opportunity to be a part of this creative adventure.“

Thibodeau said she is encouraging each of the students to make miniature scenery because not everyone’s laptop can project a virtual reality backdrop. “This is manual reality,” she said. For example, Queen Letricia (Shanti Jones) and King Philip (Ryan Mutnick) have an on-camera tiny castle to inhabit as they despair over their daughters, who wear out their shoes every full moon.

The Royal Council – actors Olivia Tafoya, Jayci Gibson, Mia Montoya, Teya Rose and Dani Galyon – “give terrible advice” with Gibson zooming in from Dallas,Texas. Dancing princesses include Ashlee Martinez, Shelby Kiel, Anastacia Martinez and Katherine Ballard. Members of the cast who are part of the Fairy Kingdom's royalty and suitors include Raziah Ko, Layla Martinez, Rowan Higdon, Jesus Rosales and J Ryan Cox.

Thibodeau said the Zoom format challenges the actor’s creativity. Each one is responsible for their own costumes, props, backdrop, makeup and lighting. “Being on Zoom allows us to share in original ways. We visit each other’s homes. At Dani's we even met Strawberry the Easter rabbit. Last week Rowan played guitar for us from his room.”

"Technically it’s all over the place, and there’s no need for or required expectation of artistic perfection," said Thibodeau. "It’s more about creating and being together, rather than making a perfect piece. No one has the same technical ability. Everyone’s laptop has different cameras and mics. What we’re learning through experimentation will be useful to us and may catch on with others. We've adapted our approach from teaching theater-acting techniques to acting for the camera and video production. This experience is especially relevant today since we’re on the doorstep of Netflix studios in Albuquerque.”

Jesus Rosales, a sixth-grader at Taos Middle School, said "I'm learning new things, everything is so cool." The character he plays is a prince/farmer who raises chickens. Rosales brings his own live chicken to Zoom rehearsal.

Rowan Higdon, a sixth-grader at Anansi Charter School, said the Zoom theater has some advantages. “I like that I can still be in a play but in my house where it is safer. It will be fun to be in charge of my costume and props and recording it. It’s different because I’m at home on a screen and our performance won’t be on a stage in front of people. I enjoy being at home, but I miss my friends. I had a birthday recently and it was hard not seeing my friends and celebrating.”

Anastacia Santistevan, a fourth-grader at Taos Charter School, said what she likes about the play being rehearsed on Zoom, is “it is a new experience for me. We perform plays, together and onstage, but doing it on Zoom is different, I get to do things in my house, design my costume, and stay home.”

Video editor Martin Roaque is editing the last production and there is a mid-May screening of the final performance on Zoom for an invited audience of actors, their families and fans. For the summer theater production there are plans to project to video using green screens so environments become contiguous.

This project is produced in part by New Mexico Arts, Taos Community Foundation, Jones Family Fund and local businesses. Taos Children’s Theater just opened up auditions on Zoom for their next upcoming summer project, “The Little Prince.” Thursday acting classes are also offered in May. All actors age 7-17 are invited to audition. Make a Zoom appointment. Text or call (575) 758-0027 or email director Thibodeau at louiseida42@hotmail.com.

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