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Younger generation takes Rep stage in Project Elan


This article was published July 18, 2013 at 2:50 a.m.


The Summer Musical Theater Intensive, under the direction of Nicole Capri at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, is an intensive, audition-based theater training program designed exclusively for motivated young artists.

Each summer, aspiring young theater types come together at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre as part of the Summer Musical Theater Intensive (SMTI) to shape a show under the direction of Nicole Capri, the Rep’s resident director and director of education.

This summer’s show is Project Elan, a brand new, all-original musical that’s built around the idea of “elan,” or living in the moment, with ardor and almost a sense of reckless abandonment.

“I have been reading about the ‘Millennial’ generation, who were born right after ‘Gen X,’ and born in the 1980s right up to about 2000,” Capri says. “They’re the ones who made the transition from the noncomputer/cellphone age into the more technological age. And these are the folks who are in this show, doing things with much more ease and a sort of ‘carpe diem’ philosophy.

“With this show, new script, music and staging changes will be made daily, and audience members will also be encouraged to give feedback, complete surveys and interact directly with the actors and the creative team. For past summer productions, the young artists had nine days to learn the songs, script and choreography, but this year, the script will not be complete when they arrive.”

The show’s new songs will be a mix from a variety of genres, including acoustic folk, indie-pop, contemporary alternative and Nashville sounds.

Capri’s creative team includes Robert Frost, Conley Basham, Mark Binns and Beth Thiemann. The team, Capri says, was inspired by a couple of recent musicals on Broadway - Next to Normal and Once.

Frost, a past music director and vocal coach for SMTI,returns after recently graduating from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

“Audience feedback will be essential this year,” Frost says. “There’s the possibility of getting some backers and maybe doing this show as a concert in living rooms or maybe even taking it to Hot Springs, Dallas or Memphis.”

Basham, a singer-songwriter, teacher and actress who now lives in New York, has acting credits at the Rep in Next to Normal, Les Miserables, A Christmas Carol and Gypsy. She has worked as a mentor with the SMTI training program.

“People are figuring out that magic can be created outside New York City,” Basham says. “What Nicole has done here the past nine years is an inspiration for what it can be, especially with everything now a little bit ‘virtual.’”

Binns, a composer, arranger, singer and musical director, credits Basham as the reason he got involved at the Rep. He now works as a private piano and vocal coach and as a musician and music director for several central Arkansas theater companies.

“That was my first experience with theater, and that was just three years ago at SMTI,” Binns recalls. “Of the 30 kids I teach, 20 are SMTI kids. I feel really special to have 30 to 60 minutes of their time - when they’re not on their phones, that is.”

Thiemann, the stage manager, describes the set as a multi-level, industrial set.

“And the costumes will be very contemporary, some even from the cast members’ closets,” Thiemann says.

Others in the creative team include Bobby Bannister, the lead singer of Half Priced Hearts; Sam Clark, a jazz guitarist by night and a Center Point Energy engineer by day; Jimmy Landfair, a songwriter, jazz guitarist and business student at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge; and Charity Vance, a Little Rock native who had the title role in the Rep’s production of Annie and competed on American Idol in 2010.

The cast will include 53 students on the senior level and 44 on the junior level.

Project Elan

7 p.m. Friday (senior preview), 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday (senior shows), and 7 p.m. Aug. 2 (junior preview) and 1 and 7 p.m. Aug. 3 (junior shows), Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock

Tickets: $10 (general admission)

(501) 378-0405

Weekend, Pages 32 on 07/18/2013

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