by Lorie Lewis Ham
Recently I stumbled upon another Fresno theatre company for children, SHINE! Youth Theatre. Since I had not earlier known of their existence, I thought perhaps some of our readers didn’t either so we decided to introduce you. Hope you enjoy our chat with their founder and artistic director Tony Sanders.
KRL: How, when and why did this company come into being?
Tony: In the spring of 2006, I founded SHINE! in LA. Prior to our launch we hosted these awesome “brunch think tanks” with an eclectic mix of individuals to discuss the needs of children’s theater in Los Angeles. From those meetings, we were able to shape and fine-tune our blueprint for SHINE!. The mission statement was simple: to provide a product of the highest caliber, educationally based and adapted from works of literature. Further, we felt a strong need to provide affordable theater arts training for all students.
KRL: How did you come up with the name SHINE!?
Tony: “We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Marianne Williamson.
This is part of an amazing quote that Nelson Mandela used in his inaugural speech as President. It seemed like the perfect credo for any artist. I added the exclamation point to make it a commandment rather than a suggestion.
KRL: Did you start in Los Angeles first or Fresno, and do you still produce shows in both cities?
Tony: While we did open our doors in LA, we now call Fresno home. However, long-term goals include producing shows and making arts education available in LA again.
KRL: When did you make the move to Fresno?
Tony: We made the move in the summer of 2012 with an Open House Celebration for invited guests. We did a special production of School House Rock, Live! Our first official production was Miracle on 34th Street: A Musical adapted by Mark Sarto, which performed December 2012 at Break The Barriers.
KRL: What is the purpose/mission of SHINE?
Tony: Our mission is to cultivate tomorrow’s audience members, as well as, the training of future artists by providing work of the highest quality. With education as our cornerstone, we always start with a great work of literature (contemporary or classic) and then bring the book to life onstage. The adaptation may be a straight play or a musical. We call our process “From the Page to the Stage.” Ideally, we are exposing our audience to new material or at the very least giving them a unique visualization of a favorite work.
KRL: How many shows do you do a year?
Tony: SHINE! typically produces three to four shows a season (Fall to Summer – we follow the school year)
KRL: Do you have traditional auditions, or are the shows put on just by your students?
Tony: We do traditional auditions (monologue, song and dance/movement) to select our student candidates for the Artist Workshops. Candidates for the Workshop train two-three weeks on skills particular to that show (acting, singing, dance, speech, movement, improv, etc) before final casting of roles. After casting, the students are joined by adult professional as we enter the Rehearsal & Performance phase of training. This four week process will culminate with a fully realized production.
KRL: What does SHINE! do besides producing shows?
Tony: Equally important to us, in addition to our Main Stage season, is our education outreach and arts training. Our Conservatory consists of SHINEnrichment (an After School Enrichment Series) and Camp SHINE! (a musical theater summer camp).
KRL: What ages can be a part of your shows?
Tony: We accept candidates for the Artistic Workshops at age eight. We have found it to be a good age for reading comprehension and text analysis.
KRL: Why do you feel this type of theatre company is important?
Tony: SHINE! differs from other companies because our focus is on the students’ training and education. We take advantage of every educable moment within our process to enrich their lives. Our productions are outstanding in content and execution, however that is not our focus. Our concern is always for the artist and their growth. In fact, our motto is “Process over product.” The opportunity for students to have a safe, nurturing environment to grow, experiment and discover their creative selves is tremendous.
KRL: What are your future goals?
Tony: Our future goals include continuing our outreach into the schools of Fresno Unified through SHINEnrichment, expanding our partnerships with like-minded child advocacy entities (Fresno Art Museum, Peoples School of Creative Arts, and Break The Barriers), and making Camp SHINE! a huge success! Our camp kicks off on Monday, July 15 with the first of 2 two-week sessions. We have a fun drama-filled summer planned for campers 5-17 years old!
KRL: What are the different types of shows you do?
Tony: Our Main Stage seasons consist of straight plays and musicals, comedies and dramas.
KRL: How did the association with People’s Church come about and what all does it entail?
Tony: I had the pleasure of meeting Licia Clark at a Fresno Arts Network meeting and we hit it off immediately. She invited me to the church to tour their beautiful campus and meet some of their amazing staff. I was completely taken with it all. Their sponsorship of our work, product and mission has been tremendous. SHINE! is honored and proud to call Peoples Church its home.
KRL: Do you have a specific location for rehearsals/productions, etc.?
Tony: In the past, we have been fortunate to get rehearsal and/or performance time at The Voice Shop (thanks Debi Ruud!) and Break The Barriers (thanks Steve and Deby Hergenrader). Moving forward we will most likely host all facets (auditions, Artist Workshops, Rehearsal & Performance) on the Peoples Church campus.
KRL: How do you choose the plays you will produce?
Tony: As Artistic Director, I strive to craft a season around a common theme: hope, pride, dreams, love, etc. Ultimately, it comes down to the source material…the book. What is its message? Is it on the CORE Curriculum Reading List? What is its educational value? Does an adaptation exist? We are also very big on audience suggestions. Our adaptation of Scot O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins evolved from a suggestion made by a student!
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Tony: We are quite proud of our training process, our arts education outreach, as well as, the quality of the work on our Main Stage. However, it is always special and reaffirming to have others recognize your work:
1. Award Proclamation from the West Hollywood City Council that “commends SHINE! for creating an environment in which to entertain, engage and enrich the lives of Los Angeles area youth.”
2. Congresswoman Diane Watson presents SHINE! with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for “outstanding and invaluable service to the community”
3. Winner of the Winifred Ward Award for the “Most Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company” in the US (American Alliance of Theatre and Education).
Editor’s note: After press time I received information from Tony stating that complications arose and they are unable to use People’s Church for their events. However, they are seeking new space right now and will keep us posted. Information on the new location for their events will either be posted here, or in future SHINE! event pages so keep checking back.