Summer conservatory students take on the demon barber

CorrespondentJuly 20, 2013 

  • Details

    What: “Sweeney Todd” performed by members of PlayMakers’ Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory

    When: 2 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, UNC-Chapel Hill

    Tickets: $15 for adults; $13 for PlayMakers subscribers; $10, under age 18.


Summer is often a sleepy time in the world of theater. For the past month, however, UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art has been busy.

A group of students has been feverishly assembling a production of “Sweeney Todd” as part of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory.

The conservatory, in its sixth year, gives local high school students the chance to rehearse and perform a play in PlayMakers’ theater space. The students are taught by professional directors and choreographers.

Their hard work culminates with performances of the musical about the demon barber of Fleet Street; the final performance is Sunday in the center’s 200-seat Elizabeth Price Kenan Theater.

Enthusiastic kids

This year’s director is Tom Quaintance, artistic director of Cape Fear Regional Theater in Fayetteville. Quaintance has directed previous conservatory shows and cites students’ unbridled passion as the driving force behind the conservatory’s’ success.

“These kids are extraordinarily enthusiastic and committed, so it is absolutely electric to be in a room with them,” Quaintance said. “Everyone is completely engaged.”

PlayMakers’ education manager, Jenny Wales, has been similarly struck by the students’ investment. She has always been interested in capitalizing on this dynamism by getting the students to challenge and stretch themselves. Part of how she does that is by picking plays that are different or difficult.

“‘Sweeney Todd’ is very emotionally deep and dark, and it’s also extremely musically challenging,” she said. “We wanted to choose something that would force the students to push themselves.”

The conservatory is separated into sections: a Theater Intensive program for actors and a TheaterTech program for those most interested in the behind-the-scenes, technical aspects of theater.

Behind the scenes

While the Theater Intensive participants rehearse, TheaterTech students learn about scenic, costume and lighting production. Working with professional carpenters, painters and designers, this summer’s students received on-the-job training as they labored to bring the technical aspects of ‘Sweeney Todd’ to life.

Emma Beck, a rising senior at Chapel Hill High School, focused on scenic design this summer, her second at the conservatory.

“Working on a professional set like this is just so different than anything I experienced in high school theater tech classes,” she said.

Theater Intensive student Sadie Frank is a rising junior at Chapel Hill High and is participating in the conservatory for the fourth time. Like Beck, she appreciates the program’s demanding nature.

“In school shows there’s a lot of time when you’re not doing anything – when you’re sitting around,” Frank said. “But in the conservatory you’re always working.”


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