Act Two @ Levine has been anxiously awaiting the announcement of their upcoming season. “Sometimes you are literally waiting with your finger on the “send key” until each detail falls into place; a lot goes into planning a season that’s educational, different and compelling.” Kevin Kuchar, Artistic Director and Musical Theater Department Chair for the Levine School of Music remarks, “Truthfully it’s not until the last “t” is crossed that you can say “Here it is folks,” so much can change; you have to resist the urge to talk about it.” And with their upcoming main stage production of the Tony Award winning, In The Heights, Pre-Professional productions of Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, Urinetown, and the D.C. area’s youth premier production of Monty Pythons Spamalot; Act Two @ Levine certainly has a lot to talk about.
If that wasn’t enough to keep their young cast members busy, a new program is being added to the Levine School of Music. First Act, described as an opportunity exclusively for middle school aged students to stage (with one cast) two full scale productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Little Shop of Horrors, it’s clear Act Two @ Levine isn’t resting on their many credits; instead they are, as Kuchar describes it, “developing the new school of thought for what we do.”
While continuing to offer some of our regions more contemporary musical theater pieces for young performers, it is apparent Act Two @ Levine works hard to evolve what it means to study music theater in the DC Metro area and that Kuchar has a lot to say on the subject. “The D.C. area is a great place to teach musical theater. I think it is rare to find this kind of programming for youth outside of their high school departments elsewhere. In our area though, every season, new programming, new companies, new shows are sprouting up all over the place. It’s a testament to the high level of interest and talent in the area for sure.”
When asked what separates one theater company from another Kuchar offered, “What makes Act Two @ Levine different is our focus. We are about keeping process before product; I believe that there are real skills to be developed in each cast member. I think the results speak for themselves. It’s easy to get caught up in gimmicks that are hard to measure or aren’t practical when trying to find the right place to study. The Levine School of Music offers programming that when compared side-by-side is simply the most comprehensive offering out there. We are one of the nations best known community music schools. In fact, The Levine School of Music is one of only 12 community music schools in the country accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. We have a faculty of more then 150 teaching artists, state-of-the art facilities, and access to classes in music theory, music technology, private and group instruction in almost every instrument you can imagine. Act Two @ Levine has a apprenticeship program for “behind the scenes skill development” that we are developing in partnership with a well-known and nationally respected theater, we jury our students so they can apply feedback and a lot more; really I think it’s important to remember we are a school – not a studio – and there is a big difference there.
“We learn together as a cast community, real skills that have an application outside the studio; skills not limited to the stage. We teach communication, leadership, critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving, as well as how to sing properly, how to move on stage and how to act. I think really sometimes theater is just the vehicle and our students stay around for the ride; some of them have been in as many as thirty shows.”
Averaging six shows a season – including recent critically acclaimed productions of Spring Awakening, Legally Blonde, Next to Normal, and Carousel, in their repertoire – the “vehicle”- as Kuchar describes it, certainly keeps moving.
“You have to evolve. You can’t teach the same way every season, and we would be doing a disservice if we limited our cast members experience to just a weekend of performances. To advance our cast members understanding of what we do while cultivating and motivating the total artist in each of them – we need to couple a curriculum with as much of the professional environment as we can. Absolutely, it’s really cool that we people like our shows, and the cast members put a lot into them for sure. I think what’s even more important is that our cast members move on from here to top universities in many areas of study, to the nation’s leading conservatories. In fact, last season a third our graduating Pre-Professional class were hired on regional stages within weeks of finishing their training, and many others went on to highly selective theater schools.”
One such graduate, Kayla Dixon, who recently played the role of Magenta in Studio Theaters production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show explained further, “Act Two @ Levine taught me the skills I needed as an artist to be 100 percent prepared, but more importantly helped me develop the confidence I needed as a person to be able to walk into any audition.”
“As a teacher” Kuchar added, “I can tell you first hand, nothing beats the first time you hear one of your alumnae mentioned from the podium on the Tonys – that was a moment of pride like nothing I have ever experienced; but that’s not really what it’s about. For me it’s about expanding their understanding of the craft they are studying.”
And expanding they are! Act Two @ Levine is busily announcing several key changes to their programming and performances all over the metro area. “This season we are working in collaboration with CityDance, our resident choreographer, to help develop our movement and choreography. Bringing the level of technique and artistry that CityDance is known for is really exciting for us. We are also continuing to build on our relationship with Arena Stage. Not only does the casting department host our table read and juried performance on the Arena campus, buy I am thrilled that our cast members are opening our Pre-Professional season this year with Jason Robert Brown’s Parade in the Kogod Cradle. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a young performer! Arena Stage has been really great to us.”
Following that performance, Act Two @ Levine will present productions at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the Silver Spring location of Round House Theatre. “These are game changes for sure, and we have a few more up our sleeves. It’s great to see some of the ideas being mirrored in studios throughout the area, but I think it’s the high level of programming at Levine that helps us attract additional teaching artists to work with our casts. We have had Roger Grodsky from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Steven Gross from Baldwin Wallace College, and Adam Ben David (Broadway’s The Book of Mormon) working with our cast members.”
This season we are honored to have Tony-nominated Ann Hampton Calloway and Cynthia Kortman Westphal of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor visiting to help guide our work. Also, members of our pre professional program will have a master class with Tony Award winner Sutton Foster at the Strathmore Mansion. Ms. Foster’s class is being presented by Strathmore in conjunction with her performance at the Music Center. There is a lot happening at once and we tend to challenge each other to see what we can do next to raise the bar for our cast members’ experience before announcing the season ahead,” Kuchar jokes, “and at this point I’m not sure what else we can do but send them out on tour.”
Auditions for Act Two @ Levine’s production of In the Heights are September 9th and 10th from 630-930 pm.
Auditions for First Act are September 19th from 7-9 pm.
All Auditions are at the Levine School of Music Maryland Campus – at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD.
For more information visit The Act Two @ Levine website.