Friday, November 16 , 2018, 7:00 am | Fair 47º


Noozhawk Talks: Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley Provide Kids with Big Stage Experience

Rather than moving on, pair finds fulfillment helping students of theater move up

It’s show time for Big Stage Productions, a brand-new children’s repertory company that will launch its first musical production, Ghosts of Broadway, at the Center Stage Theater on June 14. Leslie Dinaberg recently took a peek backstage with two of the principals, Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley.

The big idea for Big Stage Productions came from, from left, Laezer Schlomkowitz, Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley.
The big idea for Big Stage Productions came from, from left, Laezer Schlomkowitz, Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley. (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell us about Big Stage Productions. Why start another children’s theater group?

Dauri Kennedy: Kathy, Laezer Schlomkowitz and I have been running a program at Montecito Union School for about five years. We thought, “Wow, these kids are growing up, they’re graduating in sixth grade. They leave and we really want to continue working with these excellent kids.”

We started with them in second grade and by the time they got to sixth grade we did an operetta. We did Pirates of Penzance with sixth-, fifth- and second-graders, and it was an amazing show. So we thought, “We should continue this.” And the proper thing to do is to just start something on your own because we couldn’t do it in the school setting anymore. So that’s what we did. We figured we had music covered (Kennedy’s specialty) and acting covered (with Schlomkowitz), so we went to what we thought was the best in town for dance, Steven Lovelace (and his partner Alana Tillim), and combined with Santa Barbara Dance Arts. There you have it.

Kathy Kelley: It’s 8 years old to 20 because we didn’t want to leave the younger kids off; they’re kind of a feeder into the older program.

DK: At 8 years old you can be in a rising-star program and then Big Stage repertory. Junior high to high school and a little bit beyond.

LD: So Kathy, you coordinate the after-school program at Montecito Union?

KK: (Laughs) Yes. That’s my day job.

LD: So the shows that they were doing were after-school programs?

KK: Yes. We probably did a dozen shows together so we really got to know how we all work and we all felt like we complimented each other as a group. Then to add the creative energy of Santa Barbara Dance Arts, we just feel like the collaborative efforts of this amazing group is wonderful.

The kids who graduated from Montecito Union would come to us and say, “Where do we go from here?” There wasn’t anything like what they had. What’s going to set us apart in the future is that kids audition in at a certain level and they make it into our company repertory level. Whether it’s a rising-star level or a big-stage age group level, they are also required to be training at that level. So that’s an hour of voice lessons, an hour of dance and an hour of acting. Not only are they doing a play at this level but they’re training eight hours a week on all their skills, and that’s much different from any youth theater. There’s nothing quite like it.

LD: Usually it’s more like learn your song and your blocking.

KK: And with Dauri’s background and with Laezer’s background, and with Steven and Alana, we’re really able to put that product out.

LD: My husband was laughing when I told him what I was doing this morning. When he was in elementary school Laezer directed the first show that he was ever in.

DK: That’s hilarious!

LD: For the first show, are most of these kids you’ve worked with before?

DK: It’s about half and half. We do have a group of our core kids. We expect considerably more in the fall.

LD: Tell me about the first show.

DK: It’s called Ghosts of Broadway and Laezer, who has extensive experience writing, has woven a script together with major scenes from Broadway shows. For example, “Luck Be A Lady” is in the show and he has divined a way that the characters are in a theater and all of the sudden they become the different characters from the different shows. He’s written a script that ties it all together.

Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley teach their young performers to develop their own characters and learn how to make their choices on stage.
Dauri Kennedy and Kathy Kelley teach their young performers to develop their own characters and learn how to make their choices on stage. “We want the kids to feel how powerful it is to create,” Kennedy says. (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

LD: That’s fun. And how familiar are these kids with Broadway shows? Do they know all these songs already?

DK: Some of them do, some of them don’t. We’re exposing them to some of the traditional theater, picking stuff from older shows and then current shows, so there’s a huge variety for the audience and for the kids to experience.

LD: I did theater when I was a kid and you would get a song and then go to the record store and find the album if it existed at all. Now it’s so much easier.

DK: Yeah, go on YouTube and see the performance. ... I’m not sure if that’s a great thing or a bad thing. I had to pick out my notes on the piano and nowadays they don’t really have to.

LD: How long have you been in Santa Barbara?

DK: Over 10 years. I came here to get my graduate degree. I have a bachelor’s from the University of Illinois in voice and vocal performance and a master’s in music from UCSB. I direct choirs around town and this is my latest fun thing to do. (Laughs)

KK: She’s probably the busiest woman I know, and she’s always got a smile on her face. She also does professional opera singing, so she performs, too.

LD: How do you balance that with working with other people?

DK: It’s very, very difficult, actually, but I recently hired a personal assistant so it’s getting a little bit easier to even just plan my day. What I think is beneficial to our program is the fact that you have performers, people who actually perform or who have extensive performance background, so the children are learning from people who can say to you, “OK, at this point when you’re singing, this is how you feel. This is what you’re doing. This is physically how you’re moving.” Because you have actually walked in their shoes — that’s the great thing.

LD: Tell us about your plans for the fall.

KK: In late August we have a boot camp where we’re getting kids ready for auditions because part of performing is the audition process. We have three a la carte offerings where they can do all three or one or two of these classes to dust off the cobwebs. Then we have formal auditions and we’re doing a show called the Wiz of Oz, so it’s a combination of The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz. That show will be training all fall and will be at the Lobero Theatre in mid-January. Then we will have a spring program, Aladdin, which will be really fun because we have all sorts of interesting ways to make it unique and exciting.

LD: Where will Ghosts of Broadway be performed?

KK: Ghosts of Broadway is at the Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo. June 14 at 7 p.m.

DK: I do want to say one other thing about the program. It’s really important for people to understand that we value the process. We really value how they put the show up, how it actually happens, even more than just getting a show ready. It’s not really about let’s make sure you get your song learned or make sure you learn your lines — although those things are very important because they feed into building character and responsibility and accountability, which theater just affords so readily. But I think it’s really about how they develop their own characters and how they make choices on stage. The empowering fact is that basically we give the show to them two weeks before the show goes up. We say, “This is your show, what’s going to work? And we’re there to guide you to help you, to answer questions,” but we want the kids to feel how powerful it is to create.

LD: That’s great. Is that kind of process unusual for the younger kids?

DK: It’s unusual because often with a theater company there is a short amount of time to practice because kids have all of these other interests. So it’s all about getting that show ready and just getting to the production and making a great production. That’s really important, but so is that whole process of learning and how they actually come to figuring out what they are going to do on stage. So I would say that’s an important key: The process is just as important as the production for us.

Vital Stats: Kathy Kelley

Born: April 29 in Schenectady, N.Y.

Family: Husband Brian and two teenage daughters, Briana and Chelsea

Civic Involvement: “Sadly, I don’t really have much civic involvement these days. I don’t have time.”

Professional Accomplishments: Director of after-school programs at Montecito Union School; former development coordinator for the Montecito Educational Foundation; managed a number of small businesses in Santa Barbara

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. All-time favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favorite Local Spot: “The Chase Restaurant & Lounge; it appeals to my inner New Yorker.”

Little-Known Fact: “I’m a crazy little dog lady.” (Laughs) “I keep adopting Chihuahuas; I’m up to three.”

Vital Stats: Dauri Kennedy

Born: Also on April 29 in Oakland and raised in New Orleans. “I went to a performing arts high school and studied with Ellis Marsalis, the father of the musicians.”

Family: “A mother and a father. I’m an only child, with lots of relatives who each have a lot of siblings.”

Civic Involvement: Musical director and vocal music instructor for the nonprofit Children’s Creative Project Performing and Visual Arts Camp, known as PVAC,  and run through the Santa Barbara County Education Office, which offers a four-week summer program providing students (primarily from under-served, economically disadvantaged populations) with an opportunity to experience the worlds of music, drama and dance.

Professional Accomplishments: An opera singer whose extensive performances include lead roles with Seattle Opera, New Orleans Opera, and most recently with Des Moines Metro Opera. Kennedy just completed a summer program, preparing students for productions in Hawaii, as part of the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, and has taught in Santa Barbara public and private schools for the past five years. She is a faculty member at SBCC Continuing Education, where she teaches a performance class and leads several choirs, and at Marymount of Santa Barbara, where she teaches K-8 music. “I think my biggest accomplishment in teaching is being able to get kids who aren’t necessarily excited about music totally thrilled about music and dancing and moving, because my kids don’t just stand there. They have to move in order to sing with me because I’ve got boogie in my heart. (Laughs) I’m a little nutty with the kids. I just like to have a good time. I’m also really strict because I’m serious about it; you’ve got to combine them.”

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Push by Sapphire — “but it was a little weird at the end. I’m reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter now, for the second time. I feel like I’m in a phase of my life where I should be investing, figuring out money, being responsible.”

Favorite Local Spot: Milk & Honey, Harry’s Plaza Café

Little-Known Fact: “I’ve played chess since I was really little. I used to be really good.”

Click here for more information on Big Stage Productions, or call 805.708.8897.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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