SoL Purpose: Better kids through theater
December 6, 2013
Logan Carter took over as the theater teacher at Aspen High School and Aspen Middle School at the start of the school year, but already she is seeing some shift in the students — how they see theater, and how they see themselves.
"Some of them have had bad theater experiences or have no theater experience," Carter said. "I'm motivated to give them a new perspective on what they think theater is. And I've seen that happen already — especially the boys. Some of them saw it as a joke, and now they're asking me, 'When can I take theater again?' They see it as cool."
While Carter is only a few months into her work at the Aspen schools, such changes in perspective are familiar to her. Since moving to the Roaring Fork Valley, in 2007, she has spent much of her time in the theater, with kids. A day after relocating from Los Angeles, which she disliked, to Carbondale, where her parents lived, Carter met the principal of Carbondale Middle School and was offered a job to teach speech and drama. She supplemented that part-time work with other jobs: teaching Theatre Aspen's after-school program, leading a summer camp for the Thunder River Theatre Company. For four years, she co-directed musicals for the children's focused Jayne Gottlieb Productions, and taught acting classes as well.
In March of 2012, motivated by a desire to provide an affordable way for local kids to participate in theater, Carter founded the nonprofit Stage of Life Theatre Company, better known as SoL. The company, centered in Carbondale, debuted with a production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" that featured more than 30 kids; since then, there have been five more productions, including last year's "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and last summer, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," which was limited to older kids, age 12 and up.
“You give kids a high standard and they’ll reach it every time. They’re capable. We treat these kids with so much respect and see such potential.”
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This weekend SoL Theatre Company moves upvalley, making its Aspen debut with "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." The musical, about misfits trying to find their place in life, plays tonight through Sunday at Aspen High School's Black Box Theatre, before moving to the Orchard in Carbondale for performances Dec. 13-15. The show stars Carter Graham, who appeared this past summer in Theatre Aspen's production of "Les Misérables," as Rudolph. Directing is SoL managing director Jennifer Michaud, who traces her start in theater to "Rudolph." As a kid, Michaud had trouble pronouncing her the 'R' sound, and was thus asked, repeatedly, to sing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" for the amusement of listeners. Michaud thought it was her singing skills that made her rendition so popular.
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Carter too came to theater as a bit of a misfit. She remembers herself as a kid, growing up in Denver, as extremely introverted. But around the age of 6 she followed a friend into a theater program. The methods weren't necessarily gentle, but Carter sensed that some tough love was just what she needed.
"We had a really strict director, Jeb. He would scream: 'Project!' Throw pencils. He'd cancel almost every show a week before, saying we weren't taking it seriously enough," she recalled. "I was forced to get on stage and sing loud. There was no other option. It scared me, but it brought me out of my shell. It was painful at times, but I loved it and kept coming back to do more."
Carter traveled around Colorado performing with that troupe, Kidskits, then at 12 joined a talent agency that booked her for acting gigs. She went on to study at the theater at DePaul University in Chicago. After a less than happy year in Los Angeles, she returned to Colorado.
Carter doesn't aim to replicate the approach of her Kidskits mentor. "I don't believe in badgering the kids till they cry," she said. But she shares the belief that there is value in putting high expectations on her performers, who are as young as 6.
"You give kids a high standard and they'll reach it every time. They're capable," she said. "We treat these kids with so much respect and see such potential."
Since taking the job at the Aspen schools, Carter has slowed down on her directing at SoL; she limits herself to directing SoL's summer production, for older kids. But at the moment, Carter is testing her own potential. In addition to overseeing two weekends of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and teaching her classes in Aspen, she has started preparing for the January opening of the Aspen Middle School production of "Narnia," based on C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and has auditions next week for Aspen High School's version of "Willie Wonka," set for early March. On the day we spoke, she was grateful for the snow day off from school. "It couldn't have come at a better time. Other than the fact we were supposed to have dress rehearsal tonight," she said.
Among the benefits of theater that Carter sees is the ability to step outside one's own reality. "It's a chance for kids who might not have a natural stage presence to explore another character, get out of themselves, discover new things about themselves," she said. "I've seen kids who aren't able to look you in the eye and then a year later they've become the class clown, Mr. Personality."
Among Carter's most repeated expressions is that she is more interested in what the children learn about how to act off the stage than on it. Theater, which demands cooperation, experimentation and moving through fear, becomes a unique way to build character.
"They develop people skills and life skills they might not get at home," she said. "How they treat each other backstage, regardless of the stress, the sets, the costumes, is most important. It's important to let go of the ego — and it's hard to do that in theater, where' you're supposed to be the star. But we talk about it being the team. They build this pride and ownership in the show and that's addictive. Hopefully they take those skills and lessons into life."
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