The Littlest Angel

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As part of my “Let There Be Light” series of articles, I plan to introduce you to my thoughts and views about the benefits of music and graphic arts enrichment programs, in addition to sharing knowledge about theater companies that specifically are tailored towards ameliorating the needs of our communities’ children. I’m going to start first with a local company that is near and dear to my heart and whose facilitators I have known, reviewed, and with whom I have witnessed incredibly positive results in the children they have mentored and instructed over the past 15 or more years.

At the end of November of 2017, I was invited to review a rehearsal in a children’s theater program entitled “The Littlest Angel,” written and directed by Stephanie Lauck for the Theater Performance Workshop (TPW) which routinely performs in the Danville Village Theater. The artistic director and founder of this program is Jeff Seaberg, who has been directing, writing, and teaching children in the theater arts for the past twenty-six years, at least fourteen of which have remained exclusively in Danville. Prior to that, he spent ten years in El Cerrito managing the Contra Costa Civic Theater and did their drama campaign for ten summers. When he moved to Danville, he asked the CCCT director, Kathleen Ray, if he could conduct their program in this geographic area. She agreed and he began an afterschool program during the school year and a summer camp during the summer.

The afterschool program is a class that meets twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, after school from 3:30 to 4:45 pm. According to Mr. Seaberg, “We do completely original custom-made productions that we have written ourselves. That’s why we call it the Theater Performance Workshop.” Jeff works with his partner and personal assistant, Stephanie Lauck, on these shows. “For example,” says Mr. Seaberg, “if we discover that some of our students have special talents such as singing, or instrument acuity, or gymnastic ability, we will write shows that incorporate the natural talents of our young people.” He will often actually write a part specifically suited to the talents of a particular child or the children in the show. One could call this theater, tailor-made theater. This seems to be one of the reasons why this program is so popular with the children, because it becomes very personal to each and every child involved and helps play to their natural talents and helps to encourage the formation of unknown talents. Jeff Seaberg continues, “For eight weeks we meet twice a week, we do all the basic nuts and bolts, do monologues, script auditions, do auditions, cast the show, block the entire show. The children memorize their lines and rehearse their part.” Depending on how booked the Danville Village Theater is (located at 233 Front St. in Danville), they may rehearse there for a time or in a separate teaching facility located in the Hap McGee Park complex. After about eight or nine weeks of rehearsal, they do five performances over a one weekend time span. They begin with a school matinee on a Thursday night, followed by 7:00 pm performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including two 2:00 pm matinee performances.

Stephanie Locke actually began her exploration of theater arts at the Village Theatre in Danville when she was ten years old, under the direction and instruction of a very well-known children’s theater director at the time, Sonja Lawson. “Sonja (says Stephanie) was incredible. She did musicals. Miss Lawson was my inspiration and she gave me the inspiration and satisfaction to love theater. This was at a time in my life when I really hated school, the reason in part, was because at the same time I was diagnosed with dyslexia. When you have a disability in school it makes it hard to make friends, it makes it hard to keep your grades up, and it really brings you down. Putting me in theater totally brought me out of my shell. I made friends who were much in the same situation. I soon discovered that life is not always as difficult as we might perceive. I even had friends who discovered at ten years of age that they were gay and they couldn’t handle school any better than me. I stayed with the Danville program until I was about age fifteen. When I was twenty-four, I met Jeff Seaberg and he hired me to assist him in this program.”

Over a ten-year period, Jeff and Stephanie estimate that they have graduated over 2000 students who have participated in an accumulation of seventy or more shows. Further, the company has an average rate of return of approximately 50% to 60% of students every year. One girl has been in over twenty plays. As the student’s abilities and expectations grow, Jeff and Stephanie expand and enhance the parts they play to further engage the growing talents of each child. Having the ability to create custom tailored shows sets this theater apart as a great learning place over many other theaters which produce the typical shows. In addition, many times it is difficult to encourage boys, as they, on occasion, are not into dancing and singing. Mr. Seaberg deliberately makes his plays “boy friendly,” by creating a “super hero show, aka/the Captain Cool Show,” every year. In other words, according to Jeff’s motto, “It allows the kids to fit the skin they’re in.” Also, I tell parents that “this is not a star making program, it’s an experiential program.”

If you have a child, grandchild or young person in mind who you feel might benefit from such a program as this, contact this organization by calling (510) 517-1336 and start the conversation. The cost to participate in this program is very reasonable starting at approximately $425 for the TPW (Theater Performance Workshop) afterschool program, and up to $520 for KAOS (Kids Acting On Stage),which is a summer two week program. Children between seven and fourteen need no prior experience is in theater. The summer program takes place over a two week period, in which the children do a full play and make a mini movie. The school runs from nine o’clock in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday.

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