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Canyon Theatre Guild launches online student workshops

The Canyon Theatre Guild on Main Street in Old Town Newhall.

By Kaitlyn Reuben
Special to The Signal

March 12 was like any other Thursday at the Canyon Theatre Guild. More than 70 children of all ages were busily preparing different workshop shows. The Canyon Theatre Guild buildings were filled with laughter, camaraderie, singing, dancing and acting.
On March 13, COVID-19 and the order from the Los Angeles County Health Department stopped theater productions in their tracks, and quiet descended upon the theater.

One workshop student, Sarah Lopez, said when asked about her feelings of the shutdown, “I was frustrated and upset because it felt like COVID-19 was taking over everything. I was very sad to know that I was not going to see my friends and that the production we were working on was going to be postponed.”

The theater had two workshops in session: Adventures in Theatre (AIT,) a homeschool program taking place during the day, and the After-School Theatre Program (ACT 3,) for public school children. The staff and instructors of the workshops brainstormed together to find a way to complete the workshops. They wanted to give all of the children who have been directed to stay at home a way to stay connected and keep learning theater. An innovative new program was created to put workshop classes online. It could provide a creative outlet for the young actors to do what they love.

Workshop director and instructor, Jennifer Teague, when asked about the new program, said, “We are all very excited about working with our students again. We worked very hard to make our curriculum relevant, educational and, most of all, fun for the children. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As directors, we marveled at how we could still feel the energy and the excitement of our kids, even through the online platform. Theater has always adapted to social changes — we just get to be on the cutting edge of this one.”

Many of the students are thrilled that the program continues. When Charlie Spainhower was asked how she felt about an online class replacement, she replied, “It is hard knowing that I can’t be at CTG in person, but I am glad that I can at least be with some of my favorite people online. It is going to be difficult to adjust to this new life we have to live, but I am excited to see where it is going to take us, and I absolutely cannot wait to get back to CTG eventually.”

When CTG’s other principal instructor, John Lucewich, was asked how he felt, he said, “Though the mandates have been inconvenient and heartbreaking, they have also been a good lesson on counting our blessings and adapting to a strange new world. Though, through those adaptations, I am extremely excited for the chance to once again work with our students via an online platform.” He added, “The way I see it, the theater has always been about adventure. This is but another chapter in that adventure that I’m thrilled to begin! Here’s to the second half of our Adventures in Theatre!”

The students in the online classes are placed in small groups that then collaborate and write their own play. Then, their play will be given to a different group, which will then perform it in real time, online, for the rest of the class. In addition, there are units on theater history and technical theater.

When TimBen Boydston, the executive and artistic director of the nonprofit CTG, was asked about the impact of the shutdown, he replied, “Protecting our patrons and students is our No. 1 priority.” He continued, “It is a real challenge for us, however, because most of our revenue is earned revenue and, without a facility open to the public, our income has dropped by over 90%.”

He added, “We are fiscally conservative, so we do have some reserves. We just hope that the shutdown doesn’t last for too many months.”
When asked about the online workshops, he said, “We are so excited to be able to continue our workshop classes, and our instructors are doing a wonderful job engaging the students. Theater means so much to our kids.”

Boydston’s reflection on the meaning of theater to the students was echoed by participant Avery Marston, who said, “Theater has brought me happiness beyond compare. When driving to the theater on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I can leave everything behind me when I walk through the lobby doors. The family that you make doing these workshops will overwhelm you with love and support in all that you do.”

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