Writer // Janelle Morrison
Photography // JJ Kaplan and Submitted
The Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) Theatre Immersion Experience is well into the first of four experiences offered between January and June of this year. ATI’s Theatre Immersion Experience is a one-of-a-kind program for students ages 14-18 who are interested in pursuing a career in theater.
The program is designed to give young performing artists the chance to broaden, deepen and develop their talents in a uniquely “hands-on” way. After the production opens, students will receive 40 hours of customized instruction taught by Broadway and theater professionals. The 40-hour curriculum is designed to engage, inspire, educate and develop their talents. It will include instruction in audition techniques, dance and movement, character study, body and breath awareness, script analysis, vocal techniques, confidence training, preparation for college acceptance as well as Master Classes taught by professional guest artists and cast members in the Main Stage Production they are following.
ATI’s Co-founder and Artistic Director Don Farrell believes fervently in the power of theater to engage, inspire, educate and entertain.
“It brings us together as a community,” Farrell said. “It tells us where we have been, who we are and what we can become. The skills and lessons learned through our ATI Theatre Immersion Experience will benefit students no matter what their interests or aspirations are. With the emphasis on arts education on the decline, it is up to small arts organizations to help in the development of our young students’ minds. It is not just about helping students navigate towards a career in the theater, although that is the goal of many of our students. But today, arts education is a big part of building a 21st-century creative mind. It’s just as important for students to be culturally literate as well as math and science literate. I hope our students will leave our program feeling empowered, their skills broadened, their creativity stimulated and maybe even find opportunities to move to new and sometimes unexpected directions.”
ATI’s Director of Education MaryJayne (MJ) Waddell is enjoying watching how fast the students are learning and growing in just a matter of weeks.
“The students are currently observing the actors and crew, under Michael’s direction, rehearsing the production of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’” Waddell said. “The students have quickly gone from ‘stand here’ to understanding how everything is developing. The students are learning to understand the roles of all of the departments, how everybody has to be committed and what it really takes to produce a show. The show has life coming into it now, and the students are a part of it.”
A Hoosier native, Michael Blatt is guest directing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and working with Waddell and the Immersion students. Blatt is a director, actor and teacher who lives in New York City.
“I grew up in Indianapolis and went to North Central High School,” Blatt said. “I went to New York to be an actor and have lived there ever since. This is my first time coming back, and it’s really special for me to be here and work professionally here. I was in Junior Civic [Theatre], so it’s a special homecoming for me. What I hope that the students take from this experience is that theater is all about collaboration. Movies are a different animal. It’s much more of an individual process. But theater, it takes everyone, and it’s just not about one person. That’s what’s great about theater – you’re never in it alone. Each department brings something to the vision, and when we bring it all together and collaborate, it becomes something magical.”
Meet the Student Actors
Ethan Maluccio, Zionsville, IN
Maluccio is a 15-year-old sophomore at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. He discovered theater two years ago and immediately fell head over heels in love with it. “I’ve become addicted with finding new musicals to listen to and learn more about this amazing industry. ATI is allowing me to take a closer look at the production of a professional show and hopefully how I can put myself up on that stage someday. I am hoping to gain a deeper knowledge of the industry and improve my acting and singing.”
Yakob Engel, Avon, IN
Engel is 16 years old and has been acting for four years. He first took an interest in theater when he saw a high school production of “Singing in the Rain.” Engel’s performance experience includes many stage shows and an international choir that toured Germany and France. Engel spends his free time making music, mostly with piano, singing, ukulele, bass and various percussion instruments. “I signed up for the class because I thought it was a good opportunity, and I hope to learn some skills in acting that will help me do it professionally.”
Jack Ducat, Carmel, IN
Ducat is a freshman at Carmel High School. He had his first experience in theater in fourth grade and has loved every minute of it. Ducat has been involved in productions and classes with Beef and Boards, Bobdirex, Footlite, Civic, Carmel High School, Creekside Middle School, TOTS, CYT and many others. He would like to go to college for musical theater and hopes to pursue it as a career. “I’d love to become a working actor when I grow up, and I thought this would be an awesome way to learn and work on my craft.”
Isabella Bonanno, Carmel, IN
Bonanno has been involved in theater practically her whole life. She has a passion for performing and loves to be on stage. Some of her roles include Chava in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Hunyak in “Chicago,” Sherry Johnson in “The Laramie Project” and is currently preparing for Brebeuf Jesuit’s production of “The King and I.” Bonanno loves to bake and write stories in her free time. “I thought this was a good way to build my skills and confidence and to learn new skills. I think that there’s always room to grow in musical theater.”
Renuka Bajpai, Carmel, IN
Bajpai is currently student council vice president and a freshman at Riverside High School. She is a soprano who sings western classical, Broadway and contemporary R&B. She has performed several voice solos on stage, including performing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” live as a guest teen singer on Carmel High School radio. Bajpai has also participated in several musical theater productions. “I’ve never heard of any other theater doing a program where kids are observing professionals, and I hope that I can learn different skills from the professional actors that will show me what I can do better.”
Brooke Paganelli, Indianapolis, IN
Paganelli has been doing theater since her first show at the age of 5. She loves many different types of things, too many to name. Her love for music is apparent as she plays five instruments and sings competitively. In her spare time, Paganelli likes to read, paint and laugh at jokes that aren’t really that funny. “I signed up for this program so that I, in general, can be a better actor and a better observer while learning a lot.”
Azara Armstrong, Indianapolis, IN
Armstrong attends North Central High School and is in 11th grade. She is an avid reader and writer. Armstrong is best known for playing the Inspector in “Jekyll and Hyde.” She is profoundly grateful for director MJ Waddell for allowing her to enjoy this wonderful experience.
Georgiana Stern, Indianapolis, IN
She stole the show in her first grade talent show, and from there, she sang and acted her way into many roles in the community. She is a permanent fixture in Herron High School’s theater department as well as Claude McNeal productions where she understudied Olive in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in their summer program. Stern is a devotee of musical theater and hopes to attend CCM in the fall of 2020.