by Catherine Macallister
“I dreamed last night that I sang my epilogue” Catherine Borthwick, a former performer in the White Heron Student Theatre Company, told the creative team after the opening night of their 2017 performance of The Tempest. Although the production had already opened, the WHT’s artistic and musical teams collaborated with Borthwick to bring her dream to life and set the epilogue to music. This kind of collaboration can be seen time and again whenever the White Heron Student Company takes the stage, performing Shakespeare and musical Mixtape shows, showcasing the abilities of the students and the educational, artistic, and musical teams that encourage them to thrive.
The White Heron Theatre Company is well known on-island for its professional performances presented year-round. Founded in 2004 in New York City and “reborn on Nantucket” in 2012, White Heron has been a staple in the theater community. This dynamic company is currently in its third summer of offering their Student Company, a competitive program that gives kids ages 13 to 18 the chance to experience and perform in a professional setting.
Tiffany Gallo founded the Student Company in 2016, and her background in performance and arts management made her the perfect person to help realize the vision of the Student Company within The White Heron Theatre. “She came ready with a plan laid out” says Creative Director for Educational Programming Jimmy Calitri, who was brought on by Gallo after she founded the Student Company. Together, this dynamic duo has worked with Lynne Bolton, White Heron Theatre’s artistic director, and Michael Kopko, White Heron Theatre’s executive director, to put together a student program that immerses students in what it means to be a professional actor: an experience that the “kids rise to” says Gallo.
The company seeks talented and committed youth who must go through a multi-step application process to be considered for the program. Ultimately the goal of the program is to provide “an artistic home” says Calitri. While the program typically accepts ages 13-18, they have had exceptional students as young as 8-years-old participate in the program. Kids are chosen “not on age, but if you’re ready for it” says Gallo, pointing out the qualities they look for in candidates who are: “mature, well-spoken, and passionate.” Additionally, the company is made up of both year-round students and those visiting the island, it is a home to everyone. While there is a tuition for the 20 or so students who are chosen to be part of the summer program, they have “never had to turn away a student away for financial reasons,” an incredibly important aspect of this program that allows it to be accessible to all who qualify.
Students have the chance to audition for one or both productions: a Shakespeare show and a musical theatre driven piece called “Mixtape.” For many this is advanced training or college preparation, as they learn to study and understand Shakespeare—a key component in any actor’s repertoire— or help to put together the themed Mixtape that encourages students to dig deep and find nuances in songs that bring real world issues to light. Some students focus on one company, but many participate in both.
The caliber of this program is reflected in the work the students must do: they prepare for their roles before the program begins on July 1 so they can “hit the ground running” says Calitri. Beyond the shows, the students can also participate in workshops and learn about other aspects of the theater: lighting design, set design, the process of applying to schools. Students also meet and work with the Equity actors who are in the White Heron Theatre Company, participating in talkbacks or grabbing lunch together at the Hungry Minnow. Last year, students had the chance to meet with Celia Keenan-Bolger, who was “great with kids,” says Calitri. Keenan-Bolger won a Tony Award this year for her role in To Kill a Mockingbird, which is “not to say it’s about status or being high end, but about the quality” says Calitri, noting the importance of the students being able to see where they could be someday and some of the steps it might take to get there. For many students, both in the program and alumni, there is opportunity for everything to come full circle. From alumni coming back to share their experience as set designers to WHT offering internships and jobs to those who return to Nantucket in the summer, White Heron has made their theatre a home.
In addition to the leadership of Tiffany Gallo and Jimmy Calitri, members of the WHT creative and musical teams and their production assistants help to bring this program to life every summer. This summer Caprial Harris is the assistant director and assistant choreographer for the 2019 program and reflects on the students saying “the program helps them grow” and for many it’s ultimately “college preparation” for those that wish to continue their pursuit of the arts. Chelsea Cook is the choreographer and co-director of Mixtape, Joe Short is a co-director with Jimmy and Ed and Dan Barton make up the musical team. Additionally, Jordan Delphos from the Nantucket Music Center, has been “coming in every year…playing violin or bringing in a mini-student orchestra” says Calitri noting that the “live musician element has been very important” to the process. Together this team has come together to create new music for the Shakespeare shows, last year adapting A Midsummer’s Night Dream to be set in the 1980s with music featuring synthesizers and style of popular ‘80s music. What sets this theatre apart is that “White Heron does original work,” says Calitri, allowing for adaptations to be done and new work to be created and performed.
The journey of the Student Company has only just begun and when asked about where the program will grow, Gallo responds, “You grow with them. Where are they going to take us?” This program is a testament to the importance of keeping the arts alive in younger generations and the hard work and artistry that comes from a team that cares deeply about fostering a collaborative learning environment for students.
This season Student Company will be appearing in two shows:an abridged version of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night opens this Monday, July 29, and continues through August 2, and Mixtape: Volume 3, running August 13-17. For more about the White Heron Student Company and for details on how to apply, visit whiteheronstudentcompany.org