December 2017 Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) has recently announced its new program, Theatre Immersion Experience 2018. This program is designed for students who are dedicated, passionate, creative and wanting to grow their theatre skills in a unique “hands-on” way. For those who are not familiar with ATI, it is a professional, not-for-profit theatre organization of local and national artists dedicated to excellence in theatre production for a diverse patron base in Carmel and central Indiana. ATI enriches the culture of the community and uses theatre as a tool for educational engagement. The organization was co-founded by Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell and Judy Fitzgerald in 2005. Through these individuals’ own professional experiences and connections, ATI’s patrons are exposed to national talent who appear and assist with its productions and projects on a regular basis. The exposure to this caliber of professionalism is one of the main attributes that sets ATI apart from other equity companies in the central Indiana area. Another of ATI’s noteworthy features is the educational arm of the organization. An example of ATI’s expanding educational initiatives is the debut of the Theatre Immersion Experience. This program is for students, ages 14 to 18, and will offer 40 hours of customized instruction led by Broadway and leading theatre professionals such as ATI’s Director of Education MaryJayne (MJ) Waddell. Waddell’s career highlights include starring in the North American Tour of “Mamma Mia!” as Donna Sheridan; the Broadway and National Tour of “Les Misérables” where she covered the role of Fantine and the Factory Girl; the “Sondheim Celebration” at the Kennedy Center in 2002 in the extraordinary casts of “Merrily We Roll Along” where she was co-choreographer and dance captain; and “Sunday in the Park with George” in which she was also dance captain. Waddell spent four seasons singing and dancing alongside the Radio City Rockettes as a New Yorker in the Radio City “Christmas Spectacular.” Fascinated by the fact that an area high school was producing “Les Misérables” with all of its complexities and challenges, Waddell attended the Student actor, Grace Tucker, receives advice from Waddell on playing the part of Fantine. rehearsals of the Zionsville Community High School’s production last month and spent some time sharing her observations on playing Fantine with the student actress, Grace Tucker, who also played Fantine. Waddell shared why she is passionate to help aspiring students and to get the word out about the Theatre Immersion Experience. She believes it will help not only budding actors and stage managers hone their skills, but it will build confidence and teach the importance of collaboration to everyone who completes the program. “Before I moved to Indiana, I’d been coming to do shows with ATI since they opened,” Waddell said. “I’ve directed, choreographed, stage-managed and have been in ATI shows. What’s interesting is that everyone seems to know the Tarkington and the Civic, but there are so many who don’t know about ATI. ATI is a professional theatre company and is located in the Studio Theater. It’s a wonderful venue, and we want to get people in there to experience what professional theatre is. The actors that come from New York City and other cities to perform here are professionals. In designing the Theatre Immersion Experience, I did so that the students will experience shadowing professionals during the course of three shows. The students are going to observe and learn by following them from the very first day of rehearsals to opening night.” Waddell explained the students will have direct access to the actors, directors and technical team. They will even shadow the technical team up in the booth. They will experience what every department does and how they collaborate to put on a quality show. ATI also offers a theatre tech experience, “The Business of Backstage,” for students, ages 14 to 18, who are interested in the backstage “magic” or artistry. “After opening night, the 40 hours of their classes will begin,” Waddell explained. “Within those 40 hours, the students are going to write, direct, design and star in their own showcases at the Studio Theater. They will perform in front of their family and friends, but more importantly, we will have theatre professionals from universities that run theatre programs who will provide feedback to the students.” Another one of the goals that Waddell hopes to achieve with this program is preparing students for the challenges that await them when they leave Carmel for college or other endeavors. “You can be a star in Carmel, but when you get to college or if you are auditioning with 200 people who are just like you, it’s a totally different ballgame,” she emphasized. “Hopefully, the students will use this immersion and take away from it useful and solid tools that can be used not just in their careers but throughout their lives. We are preparing them and helping them to realize that they are unique. They don’t have to try to be anybody else but themselves and to take the gifts that they already have and share them with the world.” For more information on ATI or to register for any of its programs, visit atistage.org and click on the Education tab.