September 20, 2013 in Features

Theater production challenges young actors

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From left, Alexandra Britton, Ethan Erickson and Allie Highberg rehearse a scene from “Asylum,” on stage starting tonight at Theater Arts for Children in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)

As theater for and by kids, “Asylum,” a play opening tonight at Theater Arts for Children, is more PG-13 than G.

“Asylum,” by Dennis Bush, is set in a state institution for patients with mental illness. The cast of seven teenagers and one 21-year-old play characters including a young man who does operations on stuffed animals and himself, a woman who believes she’s in the 11th month of a pregnancy, and a man with a Barbie voodoo doll.

They’re intense roles. That’s on purpose, said the theater’s artistic director, Leah Dach, who’s also directing “Asylum.”

Most of the theater’s six or so shows a year are for all-ages audiences, with cast members as young as 4. But two productions a year fall under its Box series, designed to challenge older youths interested in acting.

“These types of shows, these types of learning experiences, they’re not offered in high schools,” Dach said. “They’re not offered at any other theater in town.”

Theater Arts for Children, a nonprofit that’s been putting on shows since 1995, aims to provide young actors their first experience on stage – a stepping stone for children before they’re cast in bigger productions. The first Box production, “Juvie,” was about the experiences that led 13 kids to juvenile detention as well as their sentencings. “Fighting for Myself” addressed pressures faced by teenage girls.

“Emotionally and physically, we push these kids to – it sounds bad – but sort of to their breaking point as an actor, to see how far they can go,” Dach said. “As an audience member, it’s really interesting to see these kids in such adult-geared roles. … They’re just really emotional, really raw, really deep, and it’s all very genuine. It’s really impressive to see that these teenagers – 15, 16 years old – can portray these types of characters and make it believable.”

Adrian Rogers

When: 7 p.m. tonight, Saturday and Sunday

Where: 2114 N. Pines Road, Suite 3S, in Spokane Valley

Tickets: $10; $5 for students with ID. Available at the door. The theater recommends audience members be 13 or older.

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