The East End's got talent -- and a new theater company for children starting up this weeekend will give young thespians a chance to take the stage and shine.
The new Spotlight Theatre Group was formed with a mission of helping young and old to achieve self-discovery "through the magic of theater in a welcoming environment," according to founders Darby Moore, of New Suffolk, and Kim Galway of East Quogue.
Moore and Galway were also the creators of ACT Out East, an acting troupe that staged recent productions at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall.
The pair will kick off the Spotlight Theatre Group's first season with a production of "It's a Wonderful Life."
Becoming involved in the theater, Moore said, helps children to develop social skills with other young people in a structured yet creative way.
"Kids can try on different ways of being," she said. "It's a way to explore, to experiment with how you're perceived and how you perceive others, in different roles. It gives you practice for life."
Moore added, "It's like little lion cubs -- they look like they're playing but they're really practicing, getting ready for life."
Theater, Moore said, can provide a meaningful outlet for kids who are not "the sporty type," participating in soccer or football. "It's especially important for boys," she said. "We've had parents say, 'Oh, thank you -- now we have a place to send our child.'"
Sometimes, young people who might not play sports can feel lonely or isolated at school, Moore said. Theater gives them another avenue to pursue, with like-minded peers following similar dreams and paths -- and imbue them with a sense of belonging.
The new theater company also fills a need, Moore said. "The arts, over the last couple of decades, have taken a major hit in school systems because of decreased funding." School bands and other programs have seen severe slashes, she added.
Even in schools with thriving theater programs, Moore said, sometimes, the theater crowed is comprised of "cliques," with the major roles always falling to the same students.
The new company, Moore said, will operate much differently. "That's why we're calling it 'Spotlight,'" she said. "The spotlight is on the individual. We want every kid to find something about themselves that's unique within the context of a community effort."
To that end, children will be able to write their own scenes and songs and insert them into the show; songs will be divided so each child gets their own line to sing. "We're not going to have kids just be in the chorus -- that's ridiculous," Moore said. "We'll do whatever it takes to allow young people to do, to the fullest, what they are able and willing to do."
Even kids who do not win lead roles usually want to come back to theater groups each year, Moore added. "What they are getting is acknowledgement, acceptance, and support -- all of those elements, so the spotlight is on them."
Classes will be held at the Grange on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, where a small stage is located upstairs; performances will be held at the Vail-Leavitt and at the Grange.
Galway is a theater educator, registered drama therapist, and licensed creative arts therapist with over 15 years of experience. She has performed off-Broadway and in film and television.
Moore received a BA in theatre from Vassar College and an MA in drama therapy from NYU, where she subsequently served as an associate clinical professor of drama therapy for six years. She worked for 25 with young people in school and clinical settings in Harlem and the South Bronx as a drama therapist before moving to the North Fork, where she runs a private practice in creative arts therapy and works at Eastern Long Island Hospital in behavioral health.
The new Spotlight Theatre Group is offering three different programs, in fall, winter and spring on Saturdays.
The fall program, “Acting for the Theatre,” beginning Saturday, offers a full immersion into acting technique. The senior group of students, ages 11-16, will also be preparing for a stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The junior group, ages 8-10, will be able to perform alongside the older students.
The winter program will focus on theatrical improvisation; spring sessions will focus on musical theater. Other offerings will include adult workshops and innovative programming for kids with special needs and theater for community outreach.