Drama teacher and director Jennifer Holthaus shares her passion for theater with kids. Lots of kids.
Holthaus, who owns the youth theater group Spotlight Youth Productions, is directing a 70-member cast, made up of kids age 5 to 14, who will perform “Mulan Jr.” at 7 p.m. June 6, 7, 13 and 14 at Flowing Wells High School, 3725 N. Flowing Wells Road.
Holthaus, 39, took over the organization, formerly known as Youth @ Performing Arts, in 2012. The group’s annual productions are nearly a year in the making. Holthaus interviews prospective cast members in August, then has the cast rehearse until show time in June. Tuition is $80 a month.
We spoke to Holthaus about her troupe and its goals.
Q: How did your company come to be?
A: This is my second full year as onwer and director. It used to be called Youth @ Performing Arts. Tom Moser ran the company, and he decided he wanted to retire and asked if I wanted to take over. I had choreographed for him. The same people were involved but we decided to start fresh.
Q: How many people attend your shows?
A: On average, we have 300 people in attendance. The theater seats over 700, but we have about 300 in our audience, and that’s fantastic.
Q: What is your rehearsal process like?
A: We decided to structure the summer portion as summer camp. It’s two weeks of fun. Throughout the year, the rehearsals go at a slow and steady pace so we have enough time to complete the costumes and sets. We have an army of parent volunteers who work on sets and costumes. With a cast of 70, it takes a lot to make a play come to life.
Q: How important is parental involvement?
A: When parents decide to move forward with it, it’s important to realize that it will be an important part of their lives, not just their children. It’s not something you just drop students off at and say, “See you later.” It’s something parents do with their children as opposed to something for kids to do.
Q: What was your greatest difficulty in your first year at the helm?
A: I was pregnant when I took over. But seeing the faces of the parents and kids just lifted me up and carried me through the pregnancy. I don’t know how I would have made it through without them.
Q: What does theater add to kids’ lives?
A: It gives them a tremendous amount of life skills that will carry them forward. They build confidence and build relationships with each other. I see it as a circle, with all the parents driving all the energy and all the passion into the center of the circle, where the kids are. Wherever they go they will feel cared for, supported and loved, and that will carry them forward.
Q: What’s your approach to coaching and teaching children?
A: You have to be aware that every child is different. You can’t coach them, treat them, costume them or teach them the same. It’s not a cookie-cutter program. Each child is an individual, and that’s an awareness you have to have if you’re gonna work with children and be effective with them.
You have to treat each child as an individual all along the way. Getting children to have fun is the way to get the most out of them. If it becomes too rigorous they lose interest. The one common element is fun. Each one of them is a puzzle.