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Summer Means Stage Time for Young Actors


Evie VanderArk says she fell in love with being on stage “when I played the role of Tiger Lily at my elementary school,” Breton Downs, in fourth grade.

The soon-to-be seventh-grader at East Grand Rapids Middle School is deepening her affection for theater this summer, in the role of Childlike Empress in “The Neverending Story” at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, running through Aug. 6.

Evie is the youngest of a handful of students from Kent ISD member districts who are spending their summer onstage, as part of their participation in the Civic’s Summer Repertory Theatre Intensive.

Evie VanderArk as the Childlike Empress in “The Neverending Story” (Photo courtesy Studio3Twenty)

“I was very nervous at first, but it was pretty easy once I got into it, and it was really fun,” she said.

Summer Repertory Theatre Intensive is open to students ages 13 to 19 who apply and audition. The program teaches performance skills, as well as technical aspects including set and costume design, lighting, sound and backstage work.

Stage Work Benefits School

Randle Green’s first play was “101 Dalmatians” in South Bend, Indiana. He was a fourth-grader.

“I just loved everything about it,” Randle said. He went on to play one of just three child roles in a community theater production of “The Wiz” in eighth grade.

Soon to be a senior at Kenowa Hills, Randle also is adding a Civic performance to his repertoire this summer. He plays Seaweed J. Stubbs in “Hairspray Jr.,” which runs through Aug. 5. His twin brother, Richard III, is in the production as well, as Gilbert.

Evie VanderArk looms above on (left) Kevin O’Neil, a senior at City High, and Colin Wesseldyk, a seventh-grader at Otsego Middle (Photo courtesy Studio3Twenty)

“It’s always a new journey from musical to musical,” Randle said. “You are working with different people and bringing different things to the table. I always get nervous when I walk onstage for my first number, but once I do I just want to keep going out until I take that bow.”

Randle thinks the benefits of being involved in theater translate to school.

“There is definitely a connection with the social skills,” he said. “In theater you have to be able to talk to people, to get along and make connections. At school, you have to do the same things with teachers and other students. You have to be able to connect on different levels.”

Another skill that brings benefits to both settings: discipline — whether it is pulling your weight, working as a team or being on time. “They both build off of each other,” Randle said.

Once the repertory intensive is done, Randle said, the first couple weeks of school will be an “off” period to focus on learning about his classes, his teachers and their expectations. “I am an academic addict,” said the 4.039 GPA. “My grades have to be just so.”

Other Kent ISD member schools with students in the Civic’s Summer Repertory Theatre Intensive this year are Byron Center, Caledonia, Comstock Park, Forest Hills, Grand Rapids,Grandville, Kentwood, Northview, Rockford and Thornapple Kellogg.

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Grand Rapids Civic Theatre Summer Programs for Students

Randle Green, in the blue suit, of Kenowa Hills High, dances in “Hairspray Jr.” with, from left, Jacob Breitweiser of Byron Center High, Mia Brown of Rockford High, Kye Body of Kenowa Hills High, and Jack Schneider of Thornapple Kellogg High (photo courtesy Studio3Twenty)

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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