Since the summer of 2002, Changing Faces Theater Company has been giving students of all ages an opportunity to experience the thrill of working on stage and behind the scenes. As a sequel to the company's previous hit, "A Pirate's Tale 2: Blood Treasure" will be performed at Jessie's Grove Winery in mid-summer. In its fifth summer performing outdoors at winery, the students are taking charge with every aspect from acting to screenwriting and even coordinating the evening's dinner.
Changing Faces founder and play directory, Mike Bartram, and assistant director Sabrina Willis took time away from the stage to talk about the performance and their theatrical drive.
Q: What is Changing Faces Theater Company?
Bartram: It as a student-run theater company. We have five to seven adults involved and then upwards of 100 or more students. I say students because it's anywhere from ages 8 to 25. It's a wide range. A lot of students come back each year, and there are a lot of new students as well.
Q: What are the jobs the students are responsible for?
Bartram: Everything from assistant directing to lighting, set design, costuming, theater production, putting on the dinner show and the program. Our goal is that they learn every facet of theater and we try to find aspects they might be interested in. It's not only having fun in the summer and putting on a play, but there's learning involved, too.
Q: How did you get started with this company?
Bartram: I am a teacher at Lincoln High School, so education is how I got started with this. There were two or three of us who started the theater company six years ago. It's kind of evolved and changed and brought in new people along the way. The numbers have gotten larger and the group has grown quite a bit.
Q: What are some of the previous shows you have performed?
Bartram: We've done a number of original works. One was "Peter's Gate," written by a local theater teacher and playwright, Rob Chase. Two summers ago we put on "A Pirate's Tale." This summer, it's the sequel. A student of mine at Lincoln High School wrote it as a project his senior year. But then, he rewrote it for our summer company. It's the most attended production of five summers thus far. That's why we're doing "Pirate's Tale 2."
Last summer, we staged "A Midsummer Night's Dream." So not all have been original works, but it's kind of fun to put up something new as well.
Q: How many people usually attend the shows?
Bartram: Wow, the last two years have really taken off. Over a period of six nights, there were maybe 850 to 900 people. We averaged about 125 people each night for dinner and a show last summer. Even with the heat wave last summer, where it was 115 for the week, it was the week of our show.
Ages: 8 to 25
When: May 5
Time: 10 a.m.
Where: Bear Creek Church, 11171 N. Lower Sacramento Road.
Information: 747-8043, firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Sabrina, what do you do with the show?
Willis: This is going to be my second summer with Changing Faces. Last year I performed in the play and I also did publicity. This will be my first time assistant directing.
Q: What do you have to do as an assistant director?
Willis: I pretty much help direct scenes and give notes to performers.
Bartram: My goal with the students involved is that they don't just sit back and watch. I rely on students to come in. This is my fourth summer with an assistant and it's just a blessing to have these talented students come in. They know the craft, I just have to get them to believe in themselves and get them to the point that they can override (my idea) if there's something they really want. I want them to speak up.
Q: Sabrina, what are you studying at Delta College?
Willis: I'm studying acting.
Q: You're 18, so is this your second semester?
Willis: Yes, second semester at Delta and I am also working on costuming and stage managing.
Bartram: She's working on four shows right now. It's cool.
Q: This play is completely written by students right?
Bartram: Yes, the writer is a graduate of Lincoln and he's now in Los Angeles, trying to do the L.A.-Hollywood thing. He's got an agent and working on that. He's just trusting us (with "Pirate"). He was with us the first four summers as an actor. He played a role in his play. He's very talented.
Q: Do you see a lot of the kids leaving to pursue acting or theater?
Bartram: There's a lot in college and the college years seem to be the make or break point. Some get into it and enjoy it and try to find work afterward. Others start to study it and college takes them another direction. There's a number of students I have who do one aspect of theater or another. A lot get into the production or technical end of things. Acting is a real competitive business.
Q: What kind of advice do you give your students involved in productions you put on?
Bartram: First and foremost, I want them to have fun. But my goal, too, is that if they are really interested in this as a potential career that they take it very seriously and stay as involved with theater as they possibly can. You are only going to get better and better if you keep working at it.
Sabrina being involved with four shows - doing stage managing, costuming, acting, assistant directing - is an example. This is a year where she's going to learn a lot and grow a lot.
Willis: It's also a lot of discipline and professionalism. It's a lot of fun out there at Jessie's Grove and all the rehearsals, but it's also a lot of discipline.
Bartram: Sometimes, other companies just want it to be fun for the kids and good for their self esteem, but then there's this lack of discipline. Parents get frustrated, they drop their kids off and they just run around. We're very structured and disciplined out there. The hope is that the kids will learn things about themselves that they can take with them.
Willis: It's a good balance of professionalism and discipline. We'll take time to go out and play Frisbee or something.
Bartram: Even though there is structure to it, we do go, "Hey, you know, we need a break." I'm in rehearsal at Lincoln for an upcoming show. One night last week we were kind of out of and I said, "You know, we need ice cream." And we all just got in the car and went to Cold Stone. So once in a while you just have to let your hair down too.
Q: Sabrina, what is your dream job?
Willis: (Laughs.) His job, basically. I want to teach at the high school level. I just love working with young people. I want to get as much acting and directing experience along the way.