Young EV thespians prepare in-person performances again - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Young EV thespians prepare in-person performances again

March 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Young EV thespians prepare in-person performances again

By Staci Hauk

Known for presenting professional quality theater and offering educational experiences in the East Valley, Limelight Youth Theater boasts an array of springtime performances as young thespians venture into live performances instead of online.

Productions at Limelight are largely made possible because of its non-profit status and Artistic Director Emma England is grateful that sponsors and donors help her each year maintain a high bar for the quality of programs the theater is able to offer.

Coupled with sister company Studio 3 Performing Arts, young people interested in theater as a hobby or a future career can obtain top-notch training in dance, acting and voice.

The Actor’s Conservatory experience at Studio 3 utilizes an authentic script, as well as hand crafted costumes, puppetry and scenery to bring a story to life.

The pull for budding thespians is the “no-cut experience,” meaning every child gets a role they can audition for, take pride in and learn from.

This spring’s performance will be “Lion King Jr.,” held the first weekend in May at Superstition Springs Amphitheatre. Sticking with an outdoor venue for safety purposes, the production offers a fun family outing.

“I love the Actor’s Conservatory Program at Studio 3 because it’s a really great way for both new and veteran performers to do what they love to do – perform in a show,” said seasoned thespian and director Brianna Fallon.

“Working to get into shows can feel burdensome at times for many people, and I think it’s really refreshing to have a program like this where everyone gets in and everyone gets to participate in a significant way.”

Fallon has two kinds of thespians to serve and “Lion King Jr.” fits the bill.

“We make sure to challenge students who have been performing for a while, and also do plenty of directing/educating for kids who are just starting out,” she explained. “This particular production was really special because we got to include two students in our leadership team – Sawyer Hauk is our stage manager and Shayla Forero is our dance captain.

“After having participated in several productions themselves, showing passion and hard work, they each get the opportunity to start to learn the skills it takes to put together a production from the ground up. I’m passionate about mentorship and love getting to have them on board to assist and start to utilize their own experiences to help others,” she added.

Fallon has taken this opportunity to delve into technique work with the kids and help them understand African cultures the show pulls from – especially learning the correct way to pronounce the words.

“These songs are using real languages and it’s been so fun learning what each of the phrases mean! I always tear up a little when I see young people perform because I’m so impressed with what they were able to accomplish in such a short time. ‘Lion King’ is a touching story that addresses themes like grief, the power of friendship, hope, and learning from our ancestors so I am thrilled to bring you this exciting show.”

Mainstage performances are presented by Limelight Youth Theater, which is no stranger to the awards circuit in Arizona and on a national level.

Last season, the theater took home 12 AriZoni Awards as well as countless National Youth Arts awards, attracting a variety of talented youth from Scottsdale to Queen Creek.

The “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be presented at East Valley High School April 1-10.

The musical is directed by Van Rockwell, known in Gilbert and beyond for winning an AriZoni for “Miss Nelson is Missing” last season at Limelight and for his extensive experience directing other Valley performances.

“Spelling Bee” is a musical about a fictional bee where an eclectic group of sixth-graders arrives, each eager to win for very different reasons, and Rockwell said casting was a challenge “because of how much talent was present in auditions and callbacks.”

He paid careful attention to chemistry during auditions, explaining, “it was crucial for me to find the right cast because each actor would be playing a version of him or herself.

“Thus, it was important for each actor to show a bit of realism and individual personality to match the bold whimsicalness of the musical. It was all about the spark of a character, and it proved to be a difficult choice to make in the end,” he said.

 The cast members are excited about being in the musical.

“I have wanted to be in this show for several years. I love the unique take on each character and playing Schwartzy is something I am grateful for, along with working with this amazing cast,” said Kennady McDonald, 16, of Scottsdale.

Shayla Forero, 12, of Queen Creek, explained, “I play Vice Principal Panch and that is a very sarcastic role which I think I play really well. It was a great fit for me.”

Added Sawyer Hauk, 13, of Gilbert: “I have always played very comical roles, so for me, playing Marcy is a way to show my more serious side, while getting to dance and have an amazing song.”

Rockwell hopes the audiences’ “inner teenagers” will laugh – and be impressed by just how good each performer is.

To intrigue a more serious audience and tap into a darker and more dramatic show, Limelight is also presenting “Bonnie & Clyde” outdoors at a venue still to be determined April 23-May 2, also Rockwell’s direction.

Rockwell said casting for this show was more difficult “because it’s a more mature show which involves violence and suggestive intimacy between some characters.”

He sought actors who “showed intensity that they could bring a more dramatic performance.”

He noted that the play “is darker and mellowed, while remaining fast-paced, so it was important to utilize people who could keep up with the constant scenic, costume, and choreography changes.”

Rockwell is enthusiastic for this show because it combines his love for the era (Depression, Prohibition) with the rise of the outlaw culture and it is seen on stage in Arizona.

“My method of directing has always been on creating an ensemble; using the space to really bring out the most of each actor, and having a play be regarded for its text,” he said. “My job is to make the actors look good.”

For information on these upcoming shows and to order tickets, visit: or check for updates via Studio 3 or Limelight’s Facebook pages.