Theater director has a place for kids who love drama

| August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments
Youth participating in E-Rhapsody Catholic Youth Theatre perform a scene from the play, “Pilgrim’s Progress” at Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis earlier this summer. The program, now in its ninth year and directed by Jeremy Stanbary, helps youth learn acting and theater skills in a faith-based environment. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stanbary

Youth participating in E-Rhapsody Catholic Youth Theatre perform a scene from the play, “Pilgrim’s Progress” at Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis earlier this summer. The program, now in its ninth year and directed by Jeremy Stanbary, helps youth learn acting and theater skills in a faith-based environment. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stanbary

When Jeremy Stanbary was a kid, he was so drawn to performing that he would act out movies in his living room. But it wasn’t until seventh grade that he got a chance to perform in front of an audience.

Now, at age 36, he’s giving kids in fourth through 12th grades the opportunity to learn acting and theater skills in a faith-based environment with E-Rhapsody Catholic Youth Theatre.

The program, which is now going into its ninth year, is run through Stanbary’s company, Epiphany Studio Productions, which is also the parent company of Open Window Theatre. It began at St. Charles Borromeo School in St. Anthony and expanded to three locations.

When Open Window Theatre opened in 2011, the whole operation was moved to the theater’s location in Minneapolis, near the Basilica of St. Mary.

“There was nothing else out there that was a professional youth theater program that had an authentically Catholic component to it, and so I wanted to put that out there,” Stanbary said.

His students are enthusiastic and embrace the faith aspect of the theater.

“I have benefited greatly from participating in a theater program that not only taught me the basic skills every actor must learn, but also taught me how to remain in love with God,” said Jade Grutsch, a junior at Chesterton Academy in Edina who has been involved in the program since the beginning.

The cast of the play, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” pose for a photo in 2011. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stanbary

The cast of the play, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” pose for a photo in 2011. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stanbary

The name E-Rhapsody comes from a combination of Epiphany and the Rhapsodic Theatre, which was the vision of Pope John Paul II for a Catholic theater, Stanbary said.

“[Pope John Paul II] helped found a theater called The Rhapsodic Theatre in Nazi occupied Poland, and that vision is something that we’re very much taking up today, their philosophical and artistic vision, his vision for theater and the arts,” Stanbary said.

Students meet for classes once a month during the school year for about an hour-and-a-half.

“We start off with a prayer that just reminds us that our gifts and talents have come from God, and we want to use them for him, and try to avoid the vain glory that can often get worked into being a performer and entertainer,” Stanbary said. “It’s good to take enjoyment in the entertainment component, but we strive to show the kids that there’s a greater purpose to theater and the arts and what they’re doing as well, and that they can use their gifts and talents to also serve the Lord.”

Most of the class is theater games and fun activities that teach the kids fundamental skills in the performing arts. The program aims to develop memorization, public speaking, creativity and quick thinking, character development and teamwork.

“It’s life enriching, and they’re going to learn and pick up skills that will truly benefit them for the rest of their lives,” Stanbary said.

All the practice and drills pay off in June, when the students get to show off what they’ve learned in a  full theater production.

“The June performance is my favorite part,” Grutsch said. “It’s when I really begin to apply all that Jeremy has taught me to my role in the play.”

Grutsch says what make the performance a special part of the program are the friendships and bonds that are formed.

“In all eight years, I’ve never felt unwelcome by any of my cast members,” she said.

Through the E-Rhapsody Catholic Youth Theatre program, Grutsch says her faith has grown, as well as her love for the theater.

“Jeremy, through his love for the faith and theatrical drama, gave me a love for both as well,” she said, “seeing that it was indeed possible to shine on the stage for the glory of God.”

E-Rhapsody Catholic Youth TheatreRegistration: http://www.openwindowtheatre.org
Registration deadline: Saturday, Sept. 20
Location: 1313 Chestnut Ave., Minneapolis
Class options: Monday night, Tuesday night, Saturday morning, and a Tuesday afternoon option for home-school families
Cost: $35 per month and a $20 fee for materials

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