Welcome to our new blog feature, In the Spotlight. We will use this space to showcase members of the CYT community. By sharing the stories of folks you may or may not know, we want to welcome you to the CYT family and show you why we are Central and Eastern North Carolina’s shining star for young people in the theater arts. Join us!
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” — Emily in “Our Town”
Meet Jordan Biggers, a CYT alumna and drama teacher. She got her CYT start in our 2011 production of “Our Town,” which is going to be staged again in February as our annual winter play. We just had auditions and are excited to be bringing this Pulitzer Prize-winning work back to life, especially in conjunction with the town of Clayton’s 150th anniversary.
Ms. Biggers, who is originally from Clayton, was drawn to CYT by way of her sister, who had been in “Godspell” and other CYT productions. When “Our Town” came around, Ms. Biggers decided to audition. She was 14 and a freshman at Clayton High School, and had no previous theater experience. She said she was shocked to get a callback, especially as the female lead, Emily. “I didn’t even know I was up for Emily!” she said.
Ms. Biggers said she found the early rehearsal process “nerve-wracking.” She said she visibly vibrated onstage at the first rehearsal and worried that director Nikki Dyke might have been having second thoughts about casting her. Clearly that wasn’t the case, and the initial jitters didn’t deter Ms. Biggers from sticking with her new adventure, which quickly became a passion.
Thornton Wilder’s play, about the residents of a small fictional New Hampshire town in the early 1900s, sealed the deal for Ms. Biggers’s destiny. “If any play is going to convince you to do theater, it’s ‘Our Town,’ ” she said. “It just has this magic about it. It’s so simple and truthful, and yet you can put your own touch on it” as an actor. "It’s just a story about people."
It also helped that she felt a kinship “right off the bat” with the character of Emily, who falls in love with George, the boy next door. And, Ms. Biggers said, “the dialogue is so well written.” She was challenged to relate to the scenes in which her character goes through adult episodes in life, such as marriage, and recalled being given direction for an onstage kiss during the wedding scene. Director Nikki Dyke told her and her scene partner to “hold the kiss a little longer, you look like you’re brother and sister!”
Ms. Biggers went on to appear in several other CYT shows, including “West Side Story” and “Hairspray,” and productions at Clayton High School. One of the things she loves about theater is that it allows an actor to go to so many places through characters with different ideas and beliefs. "It’s like time-traveling,” she said. This aspect of performing also helps to cultivate empathy. “You have to take on a character’s beliefs and be true to them, not necessarily yours.” And in a lesson that anyone can take to heart, she said: "Different beliefs aren’t necessarily wrong.”
Ms. Biggers’s love for acting led her to become a teacher, which she said is “super fulfilling.” She enjoys helping young people develop their creativity and imagination and cultivate storytelling, social and literacy skills. She especially appreciates being able to zero in on individual students' unique talents and guide them into appropriate roles, whether onstage or off.
Ms. Biggers said her experience with CYT not only incubated her love for live performance but also prepared her for a career in theater. “CYT is really unique in that they allow for a really open environment but with a professional standard,” she said. She felt very well trained upon becoming a collegiate performer, having learned “the proper etiquette and expectations that are held in a professional rehearsal room. … As a CYT performer, I was expected to work hard, have respect for my directors and fellow actors, and work as an ensemble to create a polished production that all involved would be proud of. These high expectations helped me meet my full potential as an actor and helped me build a strong work ethic as well.” Eight years after making her theater debut with CYT, Ms. Biggers said that teaching is an “awesome way to be able to give back," to give students an introduction to a world that has meant so much to her. Plus, she said, "it’s just so fun."
“Our Town” will be staged at The Clayton Center Feb. 27-28-29, 2020.
Did you know that when Carolina Youth Theatre isn’t staging plays and musicals that a flurry of activity is happening offstage? In the fall and spring we host classes and workshops to offer young actors and those just dipping their toes into theater the chance to build skills in acting, singing and dancing. Some students may pursue a career in entertainment later on, but more importantly, experience with CYT in middle and high school fosters leadership, commitment and teamwork, in addition to building confidence and self-esteem.
This fall we’ve hosted workshops on dance, drama and music, and we’ve just wrapped up a series of classes on foundational acting skills. In the Acting Basics and Scene Study class for seventh- and eighth-graders, students learned warm-up and vocal techniques, along with character development, improvisation and storytelling skills. On finale night, Oct. 29, they performed their scenes for an audience of family and friends. Some students even wrote their own scenes!
Before showtime, teacher Stephanie Benner led the class through a game called “Did you hear about?” The actors stand in a circle, and the game works like so: One actor says “Did you hear about …” and points to another actor, who makes up something to say to finish the sentence. The other actors are allowed to respond in only two ways: with either laughter or gasps. There was much, much laughter. In giving directions during final rehearsals a bit later, Ms. Benner said something important about improv, which is also a good lesson for life:
“Play off what you’ve been given. Try not to control the scene too much.”
In addition to having fun while learning about stagecraft, CYT students find that their work in classes translates to benefits in real life.
Kira Earnest, a seventh-grader in Ms. Benner’s scene study class, has been in some of CYT’s summer camps, which she said were “super-duper fun.” She said she was sad when she didn’t get a role after her first audition, but she’s keen to continue learning and performing and perhaps become a game-show host or actress (she helped to emcee the scene performances in the last class). She said she loves being onstage and in the spotlight, showing off her personality while also being “someone I’m not” for a little while. Acting is a way to explore creativity and “show whatever emotions I want,” she said. Kira said she enjoyed learning acting and stage terms in this class and even noticed that the experience has paid off in school. Just that day she had participated in a debate in front of her classmates. She said it was well received by her peers, as she had successfully conveyed the emotions behind her point of view on the topic.
Mimi Mollins, an eighth-grader in Ms. Benner’s class, was inspired to participate in CYT by her mother, a voice teacher with a background in musical theater. She landed a role in CYT’s Bye Bye Birdie on her first audition, and also appeared in last summer’s The Wizard of Oz. She said she enjoys all aspects of theater, especially using the body to convey emotions, and she takes several hours of dance classes each week. In acting, “you can be different people and get in other people’s shoes,” she said, which helps build empathy and sympathy. She has noticed the ripple effects of her theater experience in her own relationships, she said. “It makes you a softer person.”
Keep your eyes and ears open for news on our spring classes and workshops. Registration will open in January 2020.
Welcome to our new blog! In this space we will take you behind the scenes of Carolina Youth Theatre (CYT). After a decade serving our community as Clayton Youth Theater, we are so excited to relaunch our program as Carolina Youth Theatre, and become the destination theater arts organization for young people in Central and Eastern North Carolina. Here we will showcase our classes, workshops, auditions and the many components that come together to stage our winter plays and summer musicals. Join us on our journey, and please feel free to send suggestions for stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you at the theater!
Carolina Youth Theatre