Driftless Youth Theater selects actors for 2017 season

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By Molly Moser

Auditions for a new youth theater group in Guttenberg were held last month, and eight children ages 10-15 have been selected to participate in the Driftless Youth Theater 2017 Summer Arts Ensemble. Participants will begin meeting this month on Friday afternoons at River Park Place in Guttenberg.

Budding actors were asked to submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher, coach or adult friend highlighting the applicant’s imagination, attitude, and teamwork capabilities, and during auditions performed a required one-minute monologue as well as a 15 second – two minute joke, song, story, monologue or speech prepared in advance. 

“I chose an audition monologue for all the kids to use, but also asked them to prepare something themselves,” said Driftless Theater leader Jason Tipsword of rural Guttenberg. “I got jokes, a truly impressive song, some Shakespeare, some Lin Manuel Miranda, a JFK speech, and a Chaplin monologue. The variety was most impressive.”

Tipsword was raised in theater. “My mom began working at Hancher Auditorium when I was nine, but even before that she was part of a theatre company in the Quad Cities. I participated in theatre throughout school, and after college taught, coached, and directed plays at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch.”

He started an action-theatre company in 1998 that toured nationally, working with the company for 11 years. He spent seven years with The University of Iowa Dance and Opera Production Unit. In 2012, Tipsword earned a teaching certification from the Society of American Fight Directors, an internationally recognized non-profit organization dedicated to promoting safety and fostering excellence in the art of stage combat for producers, directors, actors and teachers.

“I've taught at Drake, Kirkwood Community College, Theatre Cedar Rapids, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fox Valley Repertory Theater, and now the University of Iowa. All told, I’ve worked on over 175 theatrical productions of all kinds, and three films,” Tipsword told The Press. 

“I hear two sides of the same issue, working with colleagues at UI who point out the deemphasis of arts in K-12 programs, and working with youth programs and schools where funding and finding time in the schedule are a yearly challenge. I am also aware of arts summer camps, and community organizations providing opportunities for kids to experience theatre. Many of these programs face challenges similar to those run by the schools. Many community theaters offer opportunities for experiences, but in a necessarily product- based way, and very rarely any sort of training for kids showing more than a casual interest. There are kids in the area who demonstrate talent, and much more than a casual interest in theatre. This program is for them. Experience and training work best together rather than separately.”

Tipsword hopes the program will grow in the coming years, and this summer plans to hold public performances including modern, classic and original material. “While I have chosen some material, I hope the kids will choose much of our program. You can expect some monologues, improv, and sketch work. We'll have comedy, drama, and maybe a little music,” he said. 

Summer ensemble participants must demonstrate an advanced interested and aptitude in theater arts and will receive training in basic acting, theatrical movement, monologues, audience interaction, teambuilding, scene work, sketch comedy, and material development. The mission of the new program is to encourage and empower young actors to grow as individuals, artists, team members, and people through collaboration, challenge and imagination. 

“In my opinion, there are few skills more important in life than the ability to work collaboratively. Anyone that's worked with me before has heard me say, ‘theatre is a team sport.’ It's a kind of personal mantra,” Tipsword explained. “I've been on some fantastic teams – sports, work, and especially on the stage. Much like my other examples, in theatre we work as a team. The main difference is the competition. In theatre we compete with our own imagination and creativity. We succeed or fail on our own efforts rather than our efforts weighed against our opposition's.”

Youth selected for this summer’s Driftless Youth Theater are from Guttenberg, Garnavillo, Elkader and Volga. There is no cost to participate in the program, which meets weekly from June 16 to Aug. 11. Look for information about public performances in upcoming issues of The Guttenberg Press. 

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