August 5, 2008

Weeks of Rehearsals Lead to Students’ Presentation of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

By Caleb Sheaffer, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Aug. 5--The Wyoming Seminary Performing Arts Institute offers young actors and actresses the chance to do what they dream of doing -- rehearse and act as if they are a professional theater performer.

On Thursday and Friday, the students will step on stage at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts to perform the musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

The performance is a culmination of the students' hard work during the institute which started June 29.

The director of the production, William Roudebush, always looks forward to the students' reaction when rehearsals start at the Kirby Center. Typically rehearsals are held at Wyoming Seminary, until the week before the performance, when the students go to the Kirby Center for dress rehearsal.

As Roudebush says, he was in his 30s when he first had the chance to work in a theater comparable to the Kirby Center.

"One of my favorite moments every year is when we take them to the Kirby Center and they all say, 'Oh my God!'" Roudebush said.

Performing Arts Institute students range in age from 12 to 18 and come from all over the United States to attend the program at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston. They must audition and send recommendations from music and classroom teachers to get into the program. There are 36 students in this year's cast for "Fiddler on the Roof," but one part isn't a student -- and that is the lead role of Tevye.

Usually Roudebush enlists a professional actor to work with the students, to give them an experience of learning by watching a professional.

Last year, Emmy-award winner David Canary played the role of Fagin in the production of "Oliver!" This year, Roudebush hoped to get Ernie Sabella -- known for the voice of Pumbaa in "The Lion King" -- to play Tevye. But Sabella had to have back surgery, so Roudebush needed a replacement.

During a visit to Wyoming Seminary, by chance, Roudebush met Jason Sherry, an English and drama teacher at the Upper School. After unlocking the computer lab for Roudebush, Sherry found himself answering questions from Roudebush about his singing and acting ability.

Soon after, Sherry took on the role of Tevye, and this is the first summer in a while he has to dedicate to theater. Last summer, Sherry worked on directing his film "Cubes," a comedy recently released on DVD.

So far, Sherry has enjoyed working with the children, and he hardly thinks of himself as performing with students instead of professional actors.

"You remember when you started. It really reminds you about what you are striving to do," said Sherry, 34, of Kingston. "For me it's great to be inspired by what the kids are doing. Kids come upon things you've never thought of."

The biggest challenge of the show presents itself during a marriage ceremony when six members of the cast dance with bottles balanced on their heads. During a rehearsal last week, the students slowly took turns practicing the dance, as choreographer Janet Jackson looked on.

Roudebush is confident that the students will pull off the dance. He has directed four productions of "Fiddler on the Roof" and has never had a broken bottle during a performance.

On Thursday, the students will attend an acting workshop with Austin Pendelton, an original cast member of "Fiddler on the Roof." Pendelton will introduce that night's performance at the Kirby Center.

During the first five days of the program, Roudebush casts for the musical theater production. Those in the cast who do not have large roles in the musical get to have a larger role during separate cabarets directed by Roudebush. This is to ensure each student has a chance to improve.

"What I'm really trying to do is get each student as an individual to achieve something they didn't think they could achieve," Roudebush said. "My main focus is to make sure each kid in the program finds out something about themselves they didn't know."

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