Theatre Group for Children Forms

If they looked out their windows on Saturday, Marissa Pace Winkelman’s neighbors had something to watch.

For hours that day, a group of children stood on the narrow sidewalk at Winkelman’s, waiting their turn to step to the front.

After watching a demonstration, Tuttle sophomore Ryan Mackey stepped up. Fifth grader Taryn Hill took a deep breath, jumped in his arms, and was swung over his shoulder, around his back and back to the front. Both of them grinned with the satisfaction of accomplishment.

The rest of the students applauded. So did Winkelman - their instructor. Then she smiled and said, "Try it again."

So they did. Then they tried it with different partners, and those students tried it with even more different partners, until everyone had performed the dance step several times.

"Good job, guys," Winkelman said. "Now let’s get back inside and work on music for a while."

Winkelman and her students - the 20 charter members of the Oklahoma Children’s Acting Guild - share a love for the theatre and everything that goes with it. Winkelman got her start on stage when she was in elementary school and is now teaching what she has learned to others.

After continuing to perform in high school and college, Winkelman earned a degree in theatre and acted in several shows in the Oklahoma City area. But it wasn’t until last summer that she decided to work with children. She contacted members of the Tuttle Community Arts, and together they presented Li’l Abner in the fall. That musical featured more than 40 children and entertained audiences with the show’s professional quality.

"I don’t think everyone realized just what these kids could do if they were given the right direction and the opportunity to excel," Winkelman said. "But I knew they could do it."

After the show ended, Winkelman talked to several members of the cast and found that they wanted to keep performing and learning about the theatre. That’s when the idea for the Oklahoma Children’s Acting Guild began to form in her mind. Several of the Li’l Abner actors signed up with her right away. Then a few new students heard about the classes and got involved.

Currently, the Tuttle members include Jake Garrett, Kevin Gottman, Krislyn Gottman, Ericka Green, Brooke Hemphill, Christopher Hill, Taryn Hill, Jessica House, Jessica Howard, Logan Johnson, Tommie Littleton, Ryan Mackey, Lindsey Phelps, Bryce Richardson, Taylor Sparks and Bryce Tabb. Rounding out the group is Zac Housel of Edmond, Bailey Stringer of Norman, Antonio Gloria of Mustang and Jeff Moody of Yukon.

Winkelman plans for the group to perform several musicals during the year. The students will also be learning songs, monologues and scenes from different shows for musical revues between major productions. Most of the shows will take place in Tuttle, but some will also travel to other locations across the state for new audiences.

In addition, Winkelman is keeping track of other items that may be of interest to her students.

"I’m on listings for several different theatres in the area, plus I have a lot of friends in the industry," she said. "I’m making sure my students have the opportunity to audition for shows with companies like the Pollard Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park, Oklahahome Children’s Theatre and Jewel Box."

Winkelman also plans to use her contacts at metro radio and television stations to help her students get additional exposure.

On a broader scale, Winkelman said she has friends in the theatre industry living in New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas who have been supplying her with information about auditions and opportunities for children in those areas.

In Tuttle, the first show Oklahoma Children’s Acting Guild will be producing will be Babes in Arms, which is set to open in April. The musical Oklahoma! will follow.

The students meet every Saturday, where they work on acting techniques, singing and movement. Winkelman has two separate classes, one for elementary children and one for students in middle school and high school. Each class lasts for two hours.

Several of her students are also taking advantage of her private lessons, which provide an opportunity for speciality instruction. Winkelman lets the student lead during the private lessons, and they study whatever is of current interest to the child.

"During private lessons, we can work on singing, audition techniques or preparation for pageants," she said. "It’s really a time for one-on-one study of whatever they feel the need to work on. We can even work on delivery for a speech contest or a talent show. I have one child who’s going to be auditioning for the Quartz Mountain Institute and I’m going to help him with his audition preparation."

Winkelman said that although auditions for the major roles in Babes in Arms is complete, she is still accepting students, and chorus parts in the show are still available. For information, call 381-3388.

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