As a trained performer, Jillian Ashkinos has spent the better part of her professional career touring the country and teaching eager youths about the performing arts, while learning firsthand the equally fine art of managing kids on and off stage. But it was after returning to her North Idaho hometown that Ashkinos came across one of the deepest pools of theatrical talent she’s seen so far.
This summer, the graduate of Willamette University’s theater program wants to cultivate and showcase Coeur d’Alene’s young talent through a series of four drama camps at The Songbird Performing and Fine Arts Center. Throughout July and August, the quartet of camps, which cover nearly every aspect of theater from costume design to improvisation and stage design to body movement, will give kids from 7 to 18 a chance to practice their craft.
“I’m really amazed by the amount of talent in this community,” said Ashkinos, a Lake City High School graduate who has studied at The University of Wales and the Atlantic Theatre Co. in New York City. “At the time, there is nothing else available for the kids … These kids need an opportunity to showcase their talent.”
After finishing a tour with the Missoula Children’s Theater last summer, Ashkinos returned to North Idaho. “I had to wear many hats,” she said about her variety of production, performing and managing responsibilities while on the road with the MCT. “A lot of people think that’s pretty intimidating, but I’ve learned that it’s totally possible, especially with kids because they are like little sponges.”
Since then, she’s directed “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” at Lake City High School, performed in several local productions and taught drama for Art on the Edge.
However, this summer’s drama camps provide a more thorough opportunity to fine-tune her students’ skills with a mixed bag of ways to practice their performances. “It’s always been my dream to teach drama full time,” she said. With the camps, Ashkinos hopes to provide a playing field for the many talented and hopeful young performers to work on. “You practice soccer so that you’ll do well in a game, and it’s the same with acting,” she said.
Sandy Seaton, theater arts director at Lake City High School and Ashkinos’ former high school drama coach, said she’s thrilled to see a past student with such polished performing arts skills come back to teach locally. She was able to see what Ashkinos brings to the North Idaho theater community recently when her former student helped Seaton’s Lake City drama team place at the Idaho state drama competition.
“She assisted us in doing very well there. She brought something really special when she came,” Seaton said, adding that Ashkinos taught the students new techniques that went over well. “She helped them feel good about what they did … What’s great for my students is that they can see (in Ashkinos) what their potential for growth is.”