In the heart of Shepherdstown, there is much to be seen and heard at 113 South Princess Street. As Young Actors Theater Lab reaches out to a tri-state area through theatrical, educational and outreach programs; members are excited to ready themselves for the joy of live theater. Dedicated to amusing, educating and charming the community through performing arts, YATL has grown into a colorful piece of the affluent, cultural texture of the region.
In October 2007, the Full Circle Theater Company, Inc. acquainted itself with the Eastern Panhandle public as a theatrical company that toured. After the first season, the firm had sufficiently grown to obtain a lasting home on S. Princess Street. In 2009, FCTC signed a lease for a dark, box-styled performance room. The company's quick expansion came from its programming for children and youth. That's when an understanding grew that the program needed an original face and trademark. Therefore, in 2011, the non-profit corporation legally changed the name to "YATL: Young Actors Theater Lab."
For the managing artistic director for YATL, Laura Richards Bakin, it is significant to have a group like this in Shepherdstown because it gives the young community and tri-state area an opportunity to express themselves artistically.
Bakin said, "We weave the young voice into the tapestry of live theater. I believe the dramatic arts have so much to offer mankind, far beyond entertainment. What an incredible tool for expression and change the arts are! If we don't put that tool into the hands of our children, we disempower them and we deny them their birthright as human beings! If we don't reach out to the youngest members of our society, then we don't capture their story of the human experience."
Bakin has close to 30 years of performing arts experience as a teacher, manager, producer, director and actress. She has directed and performed with many theatrical companies between New York and Florida. For eight years, she served as an administrator at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and artistic and managing director at the Rhapsodic Theater Company in Virginia. She now resides in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. As managing artistic director for YATL, Bakin doesn't only do behind-the scenes work, but all of the things many would forget about when they think of running a theater.
"Wearing that hat really means I do all of the unsung, behind-the-scenes work," she said. "I oversee which programs we choose, making certain the theater programming conforms to my artistic vision for YATL. l pay bills, draw up contracts, work with marketing, fundraise, and have to do really mundane things like cleaning the windows, ironing costumes, creating inventories of props, and taking out the trash."
YATL works to offer something to everyone as they provide classes for different age groups. Generally they're broken into 5 to 9 and 10 and up, although some are for teens only. Most classes are for beginners, but there are also more advanced classes such as directing.
As rehearsals for the upcoming Production Workshop: Fiddler on The Roof, Jr. began this month, Director and Choreographer, Diana Jurand cannot wait for the experience. Jurand has always had a love for musical theater. Working with children is rejuvenating, as she will direct the 10-year-old group.
"I'm excited! Not nervous. I feel very confident about how fun this will be and happy to return to directing. Laura will be helping me along the way, along with some returning Super-Parents. It's such a joy to involve the community - at any age. I love how nurturing and welcoming and accepting theater is of children and families and how phenomenally helpful it can be for children," Jurand shared.
Although her passion is music, Jurand loves theater and storytelling as well. She grew up in a community theater setting where she was fortunate enough to have met and been educated by a variety of top notch artists; set designers, stage managers, directors, and more. As director, work can sometimes be stressful, but in the end it's nothing that she can't conquer.
"Sure it can be stressful, but if you look a kid in the eye and say 'Alright, now, I need you to come on Stage Right at THIS cue line and bellow as loudly as you can. Can you do that?' they'll take you seriously," she explained. "If you take them seriously, they'll take you seriously. And that's how you get work done."
For 10-year-old actress Una Haines, being an actress means everything and more. Haines has been part of YATL for two years and loves every bit of it. Haines is native to Shepherdstown, and always excited to take part in acting.
Haines said, "I don't really have any stage fright. I think I've come along since my first play. I just love acting. Being a different person on stage is so much fun! Memorizing your lines is one part of being an actress, but the rest of it is really getting into your character. It's fairly easy."
Her favorite portrayal in a play was last year in A Princely Predicament, the story of a prince who must travel the world to find the perfect princess. Haines played Aris, the rebel daughter of an evil king.
"I got to dress in gypsy attire and have a whip in hand! Aris was so much fun to play," she said.
Although some of the rehearsals can be very tiring, Haines feels confident about her time acting in Fiddler on The Roof, Jr. She enjoys the bonds that she has created over the years with her fellow young actors.
"The best part about this group is meeting new people and having fun on stage! When I started, there was nobody there. Over the years, I've made a lot of friends. It's just really cool and the directors are so nice," Haines shared.
Bakin's teenage son, Rudy has also acted since he was young. As he is 17, he has participated in just about everything YATL has done.
YATL's productions are known to present young people with the opportunity to produce and perform in an array of plays and musicals for the public to witness. YATL educational programs contain a variety of opportunities. They offer acting classes, seasonal camps, stage combat, dance, technical theater and even internships for young adults in theater management. As technology advances, YATL centralizes on creating outreach programs for youth to include performances by children and adults. The performances may be seen at local schools and day care centers, carrying the enthusiasm of live theater to the young community who might not have connections to this category of artistic adventure.
Devoted to contributing as an active patron in the Shepherdstown community, YATL collects canned goods during Christmas performances, offers scholarships to children's classes, and even hosts benefit performances for local endowments like the Shenandoah Women and Children's Center and Steve's Fund, which contributes to those fighting cancer. YATL programs also provide lots of volunteer contingencies for the community and everyone young and old.
Jurand said, "My favorite thing about working with YATL is seeing our children grow and become more confident in themselves, their characters, and their work. It's also very rewarding when students feel the unity of their cast and feel the hard work of their rehearsals taking effect."