June 2007 - August 2007: Issue 23

Perspectives

Focus On Education

Interviews by Janet Salmons, Ph.D.
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Fran Sillau

Fran is a former Careers in the Arts Initiative intern and the Artistic Director of Rusty Horse Productions.

Janet Salmons:
Tell me about yourself.
Fran Sillau:
I became interested in theatre at the Omaha Theatre Company for Young People. When I saw "Charlotte's Web" I was mesmerized by the costumes and technology. My parents picked up a flier on educational programs at the theatre and found a Saturday morning class. It was then I found MY art form and knew theatre was my home. Through theatre I felt there are no boundaries. I was never discouraged because of my crutches and cerebral palsy.
I started Rusty Horse Productions to provide theatre to small, rural communities. Now I'm completing a Resident Professional Education Internship at Lexington Children's Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky.
JS:
What is your educational background?
FS:
Very Special Arts Nebraska offered theatre workshops called Empowerment Workshops. There I learned I could do anything.
I attended community college and earned an AAS in Theatre. I had one teacher in particular who supported me and gave me the opportunity to act and direct. I went on to get a BA in Communication from Buena Vista University.
JS:
What would you recommend to others in terms of education and theatre training?
FS:
Get a BA or BFA. Smaller schools are better: you aren't just a number, and you get the opportunity to do everything hands on and see all aspects of theatre. I see through my work at Lexington Children's Theatre that you need to be able to do a lot of different things like grant writing, teaching, education programs and administrative work, as well as the creative/production aspects of theatre.
JS:
How did others respond to you?
FS:
In auditions, sometimes people are not open. They make no eye contact. This can be normal in auditions, but sometimes people say my disability was the reason. But, if someone is closed-minded on disabilities, they are probably closed-minded on other things. They are more than likely not going to be good collaborators.
JS:
What would you recommend to others who face this kind of response?
FS:
Find the people who will help make you be the best version of yourself. Find a support system.
JS:
Do you find problems with physical access in theatres, especially backstage?
FS:
I think theatres are coming around, but it's case by case. When someone says there is a problem, the management will usually respond to that. As an intern at the Omaha Theatre Company, they asked me to go around the theatre and find the barriers. Then they were able to get started with making it more accessible.
JS:
Tell me about your internship experience. What would you recommend to someone considering an internship?
FS:
First, DO IT! People are sometimes apprehensive about change, but an internship in professional theatre gives you professional experience. Be your own advocate and open the dialogue about your disability. Know there will be hurdles and come prepared with alternatives about how you would address different situations. Put yourself in a positive light. The internship is the best place to start working in a professional theatre.
At Omaha Theatre Company I had a chance to work with the people who taught me: I was a student and then a colleague. At Lexington Children's Theatre I asked for roles, instead of waiting to be asked. As a snail in "A Year with Frog andToad,"I used my crutches as an extension of my character. Based on my experiences I was able to put together a package. I made demos of teaching work, collected photos. I can show the best version of my work, which will make it easier.
JS:
What other suggestions do you have for people who are trying to start a career in theatre?
FS:
Seek out professional contacts. I participated in the Donna Reed Festival, which brings together Hollywood professionals and aspiring young actors. Write your mission statement: figure out how to say in ten words what you want to do. If you forget where you are going, you can remind yourself. And remember—be your own best advocate. If you want something, go get it!
JS:
What is your next stage after Lexington Children's Theatre?
FS:
I will be working free-lance. I will be working with Town and Country Arts near Omaha on "Then They Came for Me," a project that involves a local synagogue and the Anti-Defamation League with education on Holocaust remembrance. Then I hope to work in smaller communities through Very Special Arts, Boys and Girls Clubs.
JS:
So you plan to work with community, not professional theatre at this time?
FS:
I will keep trying to find full-time work in professional theatre. I am looking for the best opening and opportunity for me. I also plan to get my MFA, but am still trying to decide my focus.

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Chris Imbrosciano

Chris was an intern at the Williamstown Theatre Festival under a scholarship provided by VSA arts.

Janet Salmons:
Tell me about yourself.
Chris Imbrosciano:
I was born with severe cerebral palsy. I needed a lot of physical therapy and had a vivid imagination. My physical therapist suggested to my parents that I might really like a drama camp her kids had attended. I went to the first drama camp at six and discovered theater. Participating in theater camp built my confidence and gave me a chance to make friends.
I just graduated this year from Rowan University with a Bachelors in Theater, a concentration in Performance and Specialization in Child Drama.
JS:
How did others respond to you?
CI:
Some people assume that because you have physical problems you are mentally deficient. There were a lot of problems when I went to school: other parents didn't want me to be mainstreamed.
Later, in auditions some people refused to see me: some people are close-minded. It was frustrating. So, I decided to become a teacher and applied to the education program at Rowan University. After participating in theater production at Rowan, I realized that this is what I have to do. So, I changed my major to theater and chose the Specialization in Child Drama to meet my interest in education.
Rowan University was accepting and supportive, but you still encounter people who don't understand. A Rowan professor was the one who helped me find the Williamstown internship.
JS:
Tell me about your internship experience
CI:
One of my professors saw a mailing from VSA about the internship and told me about the opportunity. There was only one week until the deadline, but I got my materials together and applied. I participated in the internship June to August 2006.
There were 70 apprentices in three different programs. There were classes, two every other day -- Shakespeare and long-form improvisation. There were master classes every other week with artists visiting Williamstown.
In the Greylock Theatre Project with inner-city kids ages 6-12, the kids wrote plays about their own lives. Apprentices put on the plays, so the kids could see their own work on stage. Their stories were powerful.
I also auditioned for a main stage show, "Romeo and Juliet." I was cast as a Capulet. We trained in stage combat with Rick Sordelet, who is the stage combat guy on Broadway. The play was set in Havana with Latin street dancing. The choreographer helped me find alternate dance moves.
The internship proved that I could physically do it, that I could hold my own in rehearsals with people who are Broadway/Off Broadway actors.
I made a lot of professional contacts. For example, in January I received an e-mail about a television opportunity. They were looking for an actor with cerebral palsy, and someone who knew me from Williamstown gave my name. I was seen by Sherry Thomas and the producer. They decided not to do the show, but I was seen.
JS:
What would you recommend to someone considering an internship?
CI:
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there!
JS:
What is your next stage?
CI:
One thing I learned through the Williamstown experience is that, if the work you want isn't out there, create your own. I am creating a one-man show. I have people to proofread and give feedback, contacts from Williamstown.
JS:
What other suggestions do you have for people who are trying to start a career in theater?
CI:
Going into theater means you can take the rejection that goes along with it. If you can do something else, then do it. But, if you feel you can't do anything else, take the chance.

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