Friday, March 4, 2011

Sherry Lynn Talks CTGSC, Spelling Bee, and the Joy of Children's Theatre

Sherry Lynn (Evans) loves what she does. You can hear it in her voice when she talks about her theatre company, the Children’s Theatre Group of Southern California, co-founded with business partner Bonnie Hellman some nine years ago. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is their latest in a long line of successful productions, set to open March 4th at the Eclectic Company Theatre.

The company is based on a summer program Sherry and her husband, Robert Briscoe Evans, originally started in 1999 and is now called Southern California Arts Program. Back then she says she was just a mom looking for a way to make the arts more available for her own children. Today the summer program is still going strong in a new location, and her passion has evolved into a thriving children’s theatre company that holds classes, puts on showcases, and mounts two full-scale productions a year.

“This isn’t a ‘pay your money, do a showcase’ kind of program at all,” says Sherry, “CTGSC functions much like a professional adult company would. The students learn all the basics and we place a lot of emphasis on improv, scene study and monologue work in our classes. Our kids range in age from 8 to 18 so we take them through three different class levels - beginning, intermediate, and classical, (where they learn Shakespeare in preparation for college). All of the students participate in showcases during the year, and then twice a season they audition for our mainstage production.”

Co-founder Bonnie Hellman directs many of the company’s productions but they also like to bring in guests periodically so the students have a chance to experience working with a variety of directing styles.

“We get some amazing guest directors and choreographers and musical directors that come to work with us,” Sherry says, “For example, watching Kay Cole direct Spelling Bee has been such a great learning experience. She has challenged our kids to work hard and be the very best they can be. She also wanted to get to know the kids she cast because she wanted them to make the characters their own. She’s not duplicating what’s already been done; this is going to be their show.”

Above right: Kelly Moran (Dan Dad), Nicholas Sparks (Carl Dad), Sophie Lachman (Schwartzy) Photos by Noelle Gilbert

There is a method to how the company chooses what shows they will produce. The fall shows are geared more for their younger members and younger audiences, like their past productions of Annie, The Princess Plays, and Cinderella. For some children in the audience, it’s their very first chance to see a show.

Above Left: Lucy Gilbert (Olive’s mom), Ella Fanger (Olive), Chris Gates (Olive’s Dad)]

In the spring, shows are geared more for the older kids and older audiences, and the material is a little bit more challenging. These shows have included Into The Woods, The World Goes Round, and their current production of Spelling Bee.

While one of Sherry’s goals is to prepare students for a professional career in theatre, there is another reason she feels the company is special. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that some of these kids have no desire to become professional actors. For them it’s a place to come each week where they feel safe to be who they are, to find out about themselves, and not feel threatened that they’re going to be judged. School can really be a war zone for these kids and our company is a safe place where they can develop confidence and the ability to stand on their own two feet. We also integrate the ages as much as possible because it really brings a family feel to the company."

That she is passionate about what she does is obvious because she has continued the program even though her own daughters are adults. “My girls are now acting professionally and my youngest, Katie, is working as an assistant director for Kay on Spelling Bee.

That’s fun too because we like to challenge our students even after they’ve completed our program. One of our kids is now at Yale and he directed one of our last mainstage productions right before he left. Another student, Coby Getzug, was cast in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Ahmanson last summer and is now on tour with Spring Awakening.

As for expansion plans in the future, she isn’t afraid to dream big, “My wish in the universe is that we could have our own theatre and building someday. I would love to see areas for a dance studio, music studio, and a costume area so the members of the company could really get the full spectrum of what is involved in theatre.

I feel so lucky to get to do this. It sounds corny but I love these kids so much and I love what we get to create together. The joy they have for theatre is what keeps me going. I get to watch them grow up and come into their own, and when they go off into the world I get all weepy like they’re my own kids. They make me so proud.”

CTGSC’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, book by Rachel Sheinkin, music & lyrics by William Finn, runs March 4 – 27 at the Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91607. For reservations call 818-508-3003 or go to

Cast: (in alphabetical order) Lynette Aslanian, Ella Fanger, Jake Foster, Chris Gates, Lucy Gilbert, Julia Jade Hollander, Sophie Lachman, Kelly Moran, Jack O’Dea, Ava Penner, Kayla Ray, Nicholas Sparks, Peter Wolf, Robby Word and Mikaela Zelinger.

Directed and Choreographed by Kay Cole, Musical Direction by Scott Harlan, Assistant Director: Katie Scarlett. Set design: Marco DeLeon. Lighting design: John Dickey. Costume design: Tricia Berry. Produced by Sherry Lynn and Robert Briscoe Evans.

For more Musicals in LA news:
Become a Fan on Facebook

Labels: ,


<< Home


<< Home

<< Home