Seventeen-year-old Holly Violette has no trouble relating to her character in the upcoming Carroll County Arts Center production of “Stage Door.”
Starring in her first leading role, Violette plays Terry Randall, a young actress caught between her passion for performing on stage and the country’s shift toward a more movie-dominated culture.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actress in the theater rather than movies,” Violette says. “There’s something about the theater ... every single night, you never perform the same show twice, even if you’re performing the same script.”
The Carroll Arts Center is dedicated to giving young actors like Violette theater experience. The company produces primarily young adult shows, although other theater companies use the center’s space.
The arts center places particular emphasis on exposing young people to some of the less-glamorous parts of theater production, like backstage work. Actors are encouraged to take on other duties in the production. In fact, 25 of the 30 actors in “Stage Door” will multitask as members of the crew, working on teams like hair and makeup and promotion.
“Stage Door” director Tabetha White says the experience can help young actors who eventually want to act professionally to build their resumes.
“We’re really encouraging the members of the cast to involve themselves in the cast in any way they can,” says White, who’s been with the Carroll Arts Center for five years. “A lot of theater companies like having people who are experienced in backstage theatrics because then they’re able to give more to the company.”
White adds that sometimes, even the young actors themselves realize they prefer the creative freedom of being backstage instead of in front of an audience.
According to White, “Stage Door” was a great fit for the center because of the size of the cast the show requires.
“It was a really perfect choice for us because we wanted to involve as many people as we could,” White says. Over the past month and a half, Violette has worked alongside other young actors, rehearsing six hours a day, sometimes up to five days a week, to produce the original version of the 1936 play.
“Stage Door” is the story of 16 young actresses striving to make it big on stage as the world moves into the era of motion pictures. A 1937 film version of the show, starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
It wasn’t just the size of the cast that drew White to the production. The theater in which “Stage Door” will open tomorrow was built in the 1930s and seemed a natural fit.
“It has an art deco feel that really matches the feel [of the play],” White says.
While the actors had no trouble performing in a 1930s space, the wardrobe was another story.
“It definitely makes us move differently,” says Violette of her costuming, which consisted of mostly skirts and dresses. “But I thought it was pretty fun.”
White says even before the cast started dress rehearsals, actors were wearing their costumes, trying to get used to moving in the clothing.
“I love fashion in history and I’ve been in a couple shows where I had to wear skirts before,” Amanda Yuan says. “But nothing like the 1930s.”
Unlike Violette, 13-year-old Yuan says she had a hard time connecting with her character, Kay Hamilton.
“I’m not anything like her,” Yuan says. In the show, Kay battles with her own demons, eventually becoming so depressed that she chooses to take her own life.
“I’ve never played a role like this before,” Yuan says. “But when you get on stage, it’s like, ‘boom,’ you’re not Amanda anymore.”