To conclude this year's Westfield Young Actors' Workshop, Zoë Dillard and Susie Pike will be directing "Go Forth, Grasshopper!" and "Things Could Always Be Worse," this Friday, July 15 in Westfield High's theatre auditorium.
DESIGNED TO build confidence within children between grades 2 and 6, the workshop has spawned into a fun and challenging two-week program in which students are allowed to use their energies in productive ways — jumping around, shouting and performing daily in front of their peers, to name a few.
"[The Westfield Young Actors' Workshop] provides an opportunity for the youngest community members to get a chance to be on stage," said Loudoun resident Scott Pafumi, theatre arts director at Westfield High. "We like to hook them when they're young. We hope they start off in elementary school and junior high to prepare for our high school program, [which] is recognized as one of the best musical, classical and academic theatre programs in the state of Virginia."
For two weeks in July, students are brought in on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon to perform a range of activities that help build their on-stage personas and eliminate any fears of embarrassment. During one exercise, Dillard privately gives each student a sticker that has been marked with the name of a particular animal. She then asks everyone to act like the animals without using any words; but there’s a catch: each actor must find the other actor who was assigned the same animal. "This will help develop your physical character," said Dillard, of Country Club Manor. "You must act and sound like your animal and find the other person who acts and sounds the same." The incentive to complete this task usually triumphs over any fears of looking awkward or foolish in front of other students. Participants gradually become comfortable enough to crawl on the ground, hop in the air and make strange faces at each other for five minutes straight.
DILLARD AND PIKE are also experts at offering good acting advice. The key to success, they frequently repeat, is finding your on-stage personality. "You have your scripts, lines and parts — now you develop your character," said Pike, of Virginia Run, during a recital on Thursday, July 7. "Once you develop your character, then you can make choices."
During the same lesson, Dillard reminded the class: "You have to remember where your body is, and where other people are on the stage. If somebody gets hurt, then the show can't go on." As though on cue, 9-year-old Reid Labin responded by sticking out his chest, pointing his finger high in the air and proclaiming: "The show must go on!"
The program was founded by Westfield Theatre Boosters, a parent group that supports acting within the Westfield community. "We have a very smart and talented non profit parent support group," said Dillard. "The parents really established a high level of excellence for the theatre department."
Though new, the workshop has made considerable improvements in the past two years. "The program was only one week [long] last year," said Dillard. "But it was well received so we decided to extend it. It will be more of a show this year. Last year was more improvised. This year [will be] more scripted." Dillard personally selects each play based on its adaptability with respect to a large number of student participants.
THE WORKSHOP has also received more attention and professional support. "We have an 18-year-old choreographer who won a Cappie for 'Fiddler on the Roof' [last June]," said Dillard referring to Michelle Murgia, a graduate of Westfield High. "We have a lot of [parent-helpers who are] professionals. Most help out because they like it. There is a shared vision of excellence at Westfield with parents; and we have really gifted parents."
Dillard is devoted to building bonds with her students and giving them plenty of attention and care. "I hire the best people to do the best jobs," said Pafumi, who hand-picked Dillard to take care of the younger groups. "What I love most about [Dillard] is that she's a wonderful, giving person. She's very maternal, which is good for nurturing young talent. She is just full of energy and love — just like a mother — which is really good.
An estimated 200 people are expected to view this year's plays, which are free to attend and will be held in Westfield High's theatre auditorium on Friday, July 15, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. "[The workshop] has been very successful," said Pafumi. "It will continue to function as a two-week program every summer. We will keep trying to get new students in there, and it will continue."
To find out more about Westfield High's theatre programs, including a list of dates, times and showings, visit www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.