MARQUETTE - If its first production with its new parent organization is any indication, youth theater is not only alive, it's thriving in Marquette.
Now under the auspices of the Lake Superior Theatre, the company that for more than a decade has allowed young people the chance to experience the joy of acting had a smash hit in its first effort, "Annie Jr." in early March.
Plans are full steam ahead for its production this summer, "The Mouse That Roared."
Cast members from the recent Lake Superior Youth Theatre production of “Annie Jr.” perform “I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here.” (Camilla Mingay photo)
From left, Danielle Jahnke (MSHS), Megan Armstrong (Bothwell) and Kaitlin Palomaki (MSHS) played the Boylan Sisters in a recent Lake Superior Youth Theatre production of “Annie Jr.”
Kees Gray and Grace Feliz (Both of Bothwell Middle School) who played Rooster and Lily St. Regis in the production. (Danielle Pemble photo)
Nikke Nason, who has been involved with this youth theater company since 2001, said this has been a full-circle experience for her.
Nason was an undergrad student at Northern Michigan University when the youth theater started 11 years ago.
"I was teaching an acting class in the spring of 2001. I signed up to direct the play for directed study credit," Nason said. That play was "Annie Jr."
That evolved into a full-time job with the City of Marquette's Arts and Culture Center, a place she worked until last year when she decided to leave to return to school to pursue her master's degree.
"The city couldn't support the youth theater as it did in the past," she said. "Like it did before with the symphony, the city was an incubator for the youth theater. And Lake Superior Theatre stepped up."
So Lake Superior Youth Theatre is now the name of this organization for young people and Nason is its artistic director.
Reatha Tweedie, who was the Marquette Arts and Culture Center's executive director when Nason started working there in 2001, is now the LSYT executive director.
"It's kind of cool that Reatha is the executive director and I am a Northern student again and artistic director," Nason said with a smile.
LSYT has rented a third-floor space in the Graveraet school building.
"It's been kind of a nice, seamless transition," Nason said. "A lot of people, parents and others, have stepped up to make it work well."
The Lake Superior Theatre gave the youth theater funds as a loan to help it get started. Those funds are used for royalties, costumes and other expenses.
"And there are all the little things like staplers and pens and pencils," Nason said.
Other donations were made including a first-aid kit from a doctor and supplies from other supporters. The Marquette Community Fund and Frei Chevrolet also helped with funding.
"The people at the Marquette Area Public Schools have been wonderful to work with, especially Sara Cambensy and Jerrod Hanson, the night custodian," she said. "They have been so great. It has made the transition easier."
The first production under the new umbrella, "Annie Jr.", saw 130 kids audition, with 84 selected for a show, which also featured a canine as Sandy.
"We played to almost full houses," Nason said. "And we had so many positive comments. We have a vast amount of talent in this community. People who came out for the first time were shocked at how good the show was, how great the kids are. It went really well."
LSYT will have a board of directors soon and strategic planning is under way.
"My vision as artistic director is that there are a lot more outreach opportunities here," Nason said. "There are schools and theaters out there without much in the way of resources. After we are done with our shows, we will offer what we can, maybe costume rentals or other resources, to other programs.
"We want to help strengthen arts programs throughout the Upper Peninsula."
This summer, Nason be studying out of the country but the LSYT will indeed have a summer show, with Courtney Brown as director of "The Mouse That Roared."
Nason said she knows Brown will do a good job and hopes both veteran and newcomer youngsters will take part.
"Through the years, I have seen the effects of it, of youth participating in theater," she said. "For those who don't continue on in the arts, they gain skills. They gain self-confidence. They learn team work skills. They learn teaching skills.
"It's a wonderful thing."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org