By Susan Trower.
Last night Esther Gleeman, a West Sound Academy sophomore and member of Thespian Troupe #8175, was not performing on a stage. Instead, she was at home, in front of a camera, waiting for her turn to give a monologue from She Kills Monsters Young Adventurers Edition by Qui Nguyen.
Gleeman and another Thespian were invited to appear on the Projects with Jason Artists in Conversation program. Jason Daunter is an Equity Stage Manager, whose most recent project was To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway. This episode’s principal guest artist was Jeff Daniels. Also appearing were Guy Sanville, (artistic director of the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan – founded by Daniels) and two theatre educators. The program was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube, so the audience went beyond just the three theatre professionals sharing the screen.
How did last night’s opportunity for Gleeman come about? West Sound Academy’s Theatre Teacher, Gretchen Nordleaf, was in conversation with Krista Carson Elhai, a theatre educator in Claremont, California, last weekend. At one point, the teachers discussed the feasibility of producing theatre remotely. Elhai asked if West Sound Academy had a Thespian who might be interested in working on a current creative project.
Elhai is one of many who have been working with Daunter on creative educational ventures. Daunter has founded Projects with Jason, which he describes as “A collaboration seeking to inspire, educate, connect, and entertain.” Daunter organizes live-streamed events where professional artists interact with theatre students, sharing their experience and expertise.
WSA Thespian Esther Gleeman was picked randomly – literally. Ms. Nordleaf put all current Thespians’ names in an Amazon box, and when she opened the folded paper, she had pulled out Gleeman’s name.
When Ms. Nordleaf contacted Gleeman, the student said she was up for the adventure. By May 4, after emails with Elhai, all Gleeman knew was that she needed to prepare a contemporary monologue, send the project hosts a headshot and attend a Zoom production meeting. After participating in the meeting, she discovered that this project would be incredible – a chance to perform for theatre professionals and get immediate feedback.
As Elhai says, “Here’s what happens when a bunch of theatre folks gets stuck inside without our shows. We bring the shows to you! Check out Projects with Jason on his YouTube channel.”
Once the Artists in Conversation show began on Saturday, host Daunter talked with guests Daniels and Sanville about their professional experiences and what initially drew them to the theatre. Daniels said an important rationale for theatre belonging in schools is that it’s good for the imagination; it’s not just about becoming a professional actor. “The experience of being pushed to use your imagination in theatre can help in any endeavor in the future,” Daniels added.
Next on the program: two theatre educators (high school teachers from Wyoming and Ohio) asked questions of the host and his guests. Then…it was Gleeman’s turn. Daunter introduced her, and she was on screen performing the monologue from She Kills Monsters. The other student (Brody Ray Ogle, a senior from Owensboro High School in Kentucky) came on next to deliver a piece from John, by Annie Baker. Then all five were on the screen (host, guests, and students) as Daniels and Sanville gave their feedback to the performers.
Daniels, an experienced actor on stage and screen, and playwright spoke to Gleeman. “I believed every second of it. You were telling the truth. I believed you were talking to me, even though you were talking to a camera, which is even harder.”
Sanville told both students, “If you came into our theatre, and you did those speeches, you would get a callback,” and added, “Read, be crazy about reading. Take it seriously. Practice.”
Daniels also gave some general advice for the aspiring actors. “When you go into an audition, they’re not looking for perfect. They’re looking for two or three moments. Make a couple of really strong choices of what you think the character wants, and then go get it. That’s all you have to do in an audition.”
Why is Jason Daunter gathering his professional peers to work with high school students? Daunter became a Thespian when he was in high school. He is a proud member of Thespian Troupe #5140 -Fort Zumwalt North High School in O’Fallon, Missouri. He believes in paying it forward to young artists, he believes in theatre education – so he has created this series. Projects with Jason include Artists in Conversations, Virtual Cabaret and Tech Table via YouTube and Zoom. Each show involves theatre professionals, high school Thespians and theatre educators. His life philosophy is “Dare to Dream.”
Last night’s program helped two students, one from Kentucky and the other from Washington State, to do just that.
A recording of the program can be seen on the Projects with Jason You Tube channel here.