At the new Aux Dog Performing Arts Academy this summer, high school and middle school students get a chance to learn the full magic of theater, which involves so much more than reciting lines. Students will be working with a colorful group of directors who boast an impressive wealth of experience.
“Theater teaches kids valuable lessons about how to work within a community, how to take pride in their work, how to stretch their limits and how to learn their potential and become expressive confident people,” said Sheridan Johnson, a New York theater-world transplant who will help run the program.
Students will help direct, design and perform in a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Aux Dog Theatre main stage in Nob Hill. Victoria Liberatori, producing artistic director at Aux Dog, said the idea is to play to and emphasize the students’ strengths by allowing them to focus on areas they are interested in, such as technical theater or dance.
“Technical theater isn’t really offered during the summer at various art schools or camps,” said Liberatori, “but we have a very sophisticated shop, so there’s a number of things we can offer to the students that other youth programs can’t.”
The full menu of program offerings include improv, technical theater, dance, set design, costume design, a lighting design workshop, audition training, acting for film, acting for radio, dance and physicality, character analysis and scene study. They’re also trying to find someone who can help with singing.
“It won’t all be incredibly in-depth,” said Johnson, “but if a student takes to something and wants to work on that, we can build strong, smaller groups for students keen on the subject. Students will, to a large extent, be able to structure their day. All the skills will be utilized within the performance, and we will help them make the connection. It might not seem applicable at first but it will be.”
Scott Schuster, an all-around artistic associate at Aux Dog who most recently directed Tick, Tick … BOOM!, will train students in how to audition. While living in Chicago for 11 years, he worked as a casting director, a talent scout for a modeling agency and produced live events like concerts and fashion shows featuring clothes from his boutique.
“Because of my background in casting and the auditions process, a big forte of mine is helping put together a nice portfolio for people with headshots and résumés. It’s incredibly important to be prepared,” said Schuster. “Albuquerque is a great training ground.”
Schuster made an interesting observation after trying to cast roles for the 30-year-old range. There’s a gap in age availability because people between 25 and 40 tend to leave town in search of big opportunities, like how two of his actors in Tick, Tick … BOOM! took off to New York and London right after the show ended.
“I noticed you have an incredible wealth of talent from 16 to 24, then you lose about 15 years there, and then you have talent starting at 40 and above,” said Schuster. “People like myself come back; people in that middle-age category are gone doing bigger things, trying to go out to the big city.”
Sheridan Johnson, who studied English at St. Andrews in Scotland, is backed by the experience of putting kids on the track to success and self-awareness. She helped run the speech and debate team at Bronx Prep Charter School, which had a 100 percent graduation rate in what she called one of the most deprived areas of New York City. It helped that one of the graduation requirements was that you had to be accepted into a four-year degree program. She’s also a huge advocate for theater education.
“Lots of people were the first in their families to graduate,” Johnson said. “If you don’t get into college, you stay for another year. I mean, it’s free, it’s a public school. You stick around with people who really care about you. It has a strong focus on arts and the theater. With the speech and debate team, we got our first national finalist out of the south Bronx ever, up against thousands of kids who pay thousand of dollars over the summer to be better than other people.”
Johnson hopes to bring the same level of one-on-one attention to her small group of Aux Dog students in Albuquerque, which she says hosts more theaters than any mid-sized town in the U.S.
“Aux Dog is unique in its dedication to bringing slightly more cutting-edge work than most theaters do,” she said. “That’s one of the things that is so crucial about an arts education—it offers variety. Part of that variety is new ideas. We’re very dedicated and very good at covering a wide array of topics and styles, and I think that we go about our work with a sense of fearlessness.”