‘Mary Poppins Jr.’ cast learns about more than acting in Theatre Aspen program
July 24, 2018
Theatre Aspen's Summer Conservatory Program has not only afforded the cast of "Mary Poppins, Jr." the opportunities to work with theater professionals and to develop their performance skills, it also has created an inclusive and positive environment for students.
The program aims to help students become better performers and better people.
"They know that I care about them and I care about their development," director Graham Northrup said. "This is not a mill. We're not just cranking out performers. We're trying to really help these students grow into well-rounded individuals — with an emphasis on theater and performance."
"Mary Poppins," the classic musical about the Banks family's magical nanny, will be performed on the Hurst Theatre main stage starting today and running through Aug. 5. Originally, six performances were planned, but a seventh was added due to a high demand for tickets. Both the large stage and the longer run will give students a taste of the realities of being a professional actor.
"We typically do four performances, but now we're up to seven performances in the tent, which is really special," Northrup said. "The students are really excited about that. This is the most performances they've ever done, and they get to do it all on the main stage with support from our main stage professional crew."
Students said they look forward to performing a show they have known since they were younger.
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"'Mary Poppins' was the first Broadway show I've ever seen, and it just changed me. It was amazing and I loved it; it was just so magical," Devin Thomas said.
Thomas shares the role of Jane Banks with Maizy Post — in alternating performances, one of them plays Jane while the other is in the ensemble.
Theatre Aspen runs its summer programs at the Aspen Community School, where conservatory students spend eight hours a day, five days a week rehearsing. Cast members range in age from middle school to college. Students sent audition tapes to Theatre Aspen for acceptance into the program and auditioned for their specific roles in June.
In addition to rehearsals, which began in early July, students participate in what Theatre Aspen calls triple threat training, which helps them master acting, dancing and singing. Working with professional teachers challenges students to push their limits and redefine their abilities.
"I think the best thing I've learned so far is that I can do more than I thought I could," Madison McCoy, who plays Winifred Banks, said. "I kind of went into this saying, 'I'm the worst dancer ever,' but from doing this I found out that I'm actually not. If you put your mind to something, you can kind of figure it out and learn."
When students struggle with a particular aspect of performing, be it dancing or getting into character, Theatre Aspen teachers work with them at an individual basis to find solutions that work for them personally. Staff will never give up on students who are having trouble because they genuinely want them to succeed, Northrup said.
"In order to teach them, you have to love them," Northrup said he tells teachers. "Love your student, meaning that you have a deep concern for them and the part of the journey that they're on, and you have a deep desire to see them improve."
Students credited Theatre Aspen with creating a comfortable space that encourages them to be themselves and to accept others; Patrick Keleher, who plays Bert, described the "Mary Poppins" cast as "a really strong family."
"We try to establish that environment to begin with," Northrup said. "We're here to lift each other up — sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically, in dance — but we either succeed together or we fail together."
Kari Adkins, who shares the role of Mary Poppins with Graham's daughter Paige Northrup, said this philosophy has contributed to the high quality of the production.
"If we are able to all trust each other and work as a team, then you're never afraid of what's going to happen on-stage because you know you can trust your fellow actors," Adkins said. "It's easy to work together and work off each other if something were to go wrong."
Graham Northrup said theater helps people learn confidence, compassion, empathy, cultural literacy and work ethic. Students echoed this sentiment, attributing much of their personal growth to Theatre Aspen.
"It's taught me to be a more thoughtful person and to consider more about what people's lives are," Paige Northrup said. "When I'm in theater, I play a different person than I am, and I realize that there are people who are not like me."
Added Post: "Theatre is an outlet for me for self-expression. Through other characters, I'm able to find parts of myself and learn things about myself that I never thought I could."