Kyle Jensen / The Record — Lauren Honold, 13, puts finishing touches on act three of her play in the screenwriting session. Behind, Ty Molbak discusses story ideas with another student.

Training South Whidbey’s next generation of young actors, producers

For those at Whidbey Children’s Theater, it’s never too early for kids to explore the intricacies of theater.

So when a group of screenwriters huddled around a table this week to brainstorm story ideas, one might need a double take to realize they were watching sixth to ninth graders. The session operated like something out of a production studio with ideas bouncing off the walls, but it was just another week of Whidbey Children’s Theater summer sessions.

“What I love about our summer session program is that it opens up education through the performing arts for ages four to 18,” Managing Director Ann Johnson said. “We call it our gateway to production theater.”

The summer sessions are Whidbey Children’s Theater’s version of summer camp. The theater offers a number of week-long workshops geared toward different age groups and varying aspects of theater through the entire month of July. Kids who are eager to brush up on their theater skills have the choice of attending hands-on sessions pertaining to screenwriting, video production, scene study and stage combat.

Room is still available for parents interested in registering their young actors, actresses and producers for upcoming classes. Those in sixth to 12th grades can sign up for a video production camp next week, while entry level camps revolving around storytelling, theater games and imagination are available for younger ages starting July 24. Registration costs between $100 and $250, depending on the session.

For more information on summer sessions, visit http://wctmagic.org/.

To run the sessions, Whidbey Children’s Theater has enrolled the talents of alumnus Ty Molbak.

“He’s such a good fit for our organization because he’s going to school for theater and is familiar with the organization,” Johnson said. “Our kids are able to see him follow his passion, and how he’s using the skills he learned at Whidbey Children’s Theater at a higher level to pursue his dream. I think that’s important for the kids to see.”

Molbak, 22, is currently a BFA student at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and spends his summers on South Whidbey to work with the theater. Johnson says he works great with the kids and builds an encouraging atmosphere while upholding a standard of quality. That shows through during his sessions, as kids eagerly practice scene study and script writing, and it’s no different when he assigns homework.

During this week’s screenwriting course, the kids were chomping at the bit to finish their screenplays at home so they could show the others what they created.

“Most of the time, there’s this arc where the kids are really reserved at first, but by the end of the class, you can’t stop them from talking about their work,” Molbak said. “They’re having fun that’s rewarding, but I try to be clear that this isn’t just play time fun, it’s work.”

In giving his pupils homework, pushing their abilities and upholding a level of quality, Molbak says the kids learn that striving to improve makes theater more rewarding. His goal is to change the way they approach theater, writing and interests in general in a way that doesn’t seem academic to them.

The kids don’t seem to mind.

“I’ve never thought about writing a play, but it’s been a fun experience,” 12-year-old Caelen Boyd, who wrote a “comedy that’s a little cheesy,” said. “I’m thinking about doing it in the future.”

Molbak gives his students room to choose which direction their work goes in, and he focuses on helping them sort out their core ideas as a way to help get them on paper. Organization was a key focus during the screenwriting session, as he directed his pupils to plot our their story act by act so they can focus on story arc. Throughout the session, Molbak regularly asked the kids why things are happening in their stories and pushes them to think about cause and effect in their story. This helps organize the kids’ ideas and sorts out the who, what when, where and why of their plays.

Johnson says the summer sessions have crucial educational value and help fill the void left behind by regular cuts to the arts in schools. Due to the lack of arts funding, Whidbey Children’s Theater approaches the sessions as if they were an educational tool.

“The way we see it is the summer sessions are one of the things we do as part of our work in the community,” Johnson said. “We’re providing an educational experience as kids are learning to work as a team, how to problem solve and how to be leaders through the lens of performing arts.”

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Molbak, right, talks one group of students through story arc as a way to organize their thoughts.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Molbak has his students write an outline during the screenwriting session.

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