They are not ready to pack the house yet, but Newtown youth involved in the Parks & Recreation sponsored “Theatre On Your Feet” program since its inception in January 2013 are developing theater skills that segue into real life, said program instructor Theresa Talluto.
Using only a few props, their imaginations, and a shared sense of creativity, students recently taking part in the first class of the winter session of Theatre On Your Feet flowed from one theatrical exercise to another, under Ms Talluto’s guidance. Despite a biting cold winter evening that has depleted the class size that night, Ms Talluto was able to come up with fast moving improvisations that worked with the small group, smoothly integrating new students with those who have taken multiple sessions.
“We’re still in the workshop mode, with no public performances. I’m taking my cues from the kids,” said Ms Talluto.
Ms Talluto leads two separate groups of Theatre On Your Feet. The junior program is for boys and girls from 8 to 10 years old; the regular program is for young people ages 11 and up. Both of the programs focus on learning a variety of theater skills, and are geared toward helping young people develop their creative abilities.
“It’s theater for youth, by youth,” said Ms Talluto.
Each of the eight-week sessions offered from fall through spring introduces youth to improvisational skills, first of all.
“Improv allows kids to take an idea and volley it around, and then present it,” she said. Working in groups — each class is comfortably filled at as many as 30 students — Ms Talluto helps them to take small ideas, nurture the ideas, and then create a scene. “They can then explore and develop characters, rehearse, and share,” she said. Doing so allows the young people to have ownership of each theater piece.
“Deliberations between kids can be time consuming, but I feel strongly about letting them take that time,” Ms Talluto said. Not only are the students creating Theatre pieces, they are learning life skills at the same time.
“They are learning about working out conflicts, and they make new connections, maybe with a kid they don’t see usually in school. It touches on many social and emotional levels,” Ms Talluto said.
Students also learn the elements of staging, or how to use space to present a piece.
The young people who become involved in Theatre On Your Feet have the benefit of working with someone who has first-hand Theatre experience, as well as teaching experience, in Ms Talluto.
“I was a child actor in New York City, taking voice, dance, and having a manager by the time I was 11 years old,” Ms Talluto said. When auditions for the touring companies of Annie came around, Ms Talluto found herself with the part of Tessie, after three grueling weeks of auditions against hundreds of other young girls competing for just six parts.
Not yet 12 years old and barely 4’6” tall, she spent the next year traveling throughout Canada and the US.
“It was as amazing as you’d think, and then, a little better,” she recalled. The experience gave her confidence beyond her years, through media interviews, working with adult actors, and juggling the demands of working and school conducted in the back of the tour bus.
Ms Talluto said she has “amazing parents,” who supported her during the year off of school, helped her acclimate back into the school system in New York when the tour was over, and then continued to let her follow her dreams.
At the age of 12, she snagged the part of Laura Morton in Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway. It was, she said, “another great experience.”
She continued to do regional Theatre, film, and commercial work, including a spot in an episode of the television series “Fame.”
She studied film and television production at the Tisch School of Arts at NYU as an undergraduate student, and received her graduate degree in education, with a focus on educational Theatre. A student teaching stint in London showed her the possibilities for schooling that incorporates Theatre as part of the regular curriculum. She has taught drama, youth Theatre, and English at the middle school level in New York, and although she and her husband, Michael, moved to Newtown in 2005, they moved their young family back to the City from 2010 to 2011 when Ms Talluto had the opportunity to develop a Theatre-based reading curriculum for a school there.
Sharing Her Knowledge
With Theatre On Your Feet, Ms Talluto feels she is able to weave her own experiences into knowledge she can share with her classes.
“When we left Newtown, I missed three things most: first, my parish; second, my pediatrician; and our library,” Ms Talluto said. Her initial worries about moving “so far” from the City to Newtown revolved around the easy access to the arts and Theatre offered by New York City.
“But I saw in Newtown, from the first, the amazing, creative people here, and that people are trying to make changes to incorporate the arts into our town,” she said. Returning to Newtown, she knew that she wanted to have a hand in the educational aspect of Theatre arts, she said.
“What a great thing to have in the community,” Ms Talluto said, “and people are seeing that this is a beneficial thing for our kids.”
She is thrilled at the support she has received from Parks & Recreation in developing the Theatre On Your Feet programs.
“Amy Mangold and Roseann Reggiano there have been so good to us and so receptive to the idea and promoting it,” she said.
No Theatre experience, and no voice or dance lessons are prerequisites for joining Theatre On Your Feet, and the young people who have taken the class — or sometimes, multiple sessions — are very welcoming to newcomers, she said, regardless of how much or how little experience others have.
“The nature of the work is very inviting to a lot of kids, with warm-up exercises designed as games to put kids at ease. It’s little things, like everyone knowing everyone else’s name within the first hour,” Ms Talluto said.
“I love the kids’ honesty. We’ve created a comfort zone in this program that allows them to articulate better and create some good works. The more I create a safety space, the better results we get. It’s neat to watch it happen,” she said, and added, “I have so much fun with the kids, it doesn’t feel like work.”
The winter session of Theatre On Your Feet is filled, but a new eight-week session will begin in March, Ms Talluto said, making way for new faces, and new fun. Registration will be available through Parks and Recreation for that session, later this winter.