Hillbarn Theatre's Ragtime shows off High School talent

Kyra Bowser (Left, pink scarf) and the Harlem Ensemble
While the main focus of The High School Theatre Spotlight is obvious, sometimes an opportunity presents itself to see a more professional production which showcases younger talent while they work alongside more seasoned adult performers. Last night I accompanied Susannah Greenwood (of Artsalot) to Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City to see the second night of their production of the McNally/Ahrens/Flaherty piece, Ragtime. The show and the company producing it provide a great experience for the younger actors in the cast, especially those in high school who are making the conscious choice of becoming artists and getting serious about their craft.

For many school-aged performers, there seems to be a vicious trend of getting stuck in a perpetual cycle of childrens' theatre and school productions. Each has definite merit and are invaluable to a young artists progression, but there comes a time when the next step needs to be taken and a performer needs to get out and work elsewhere. This broadens their scope, creates new connections, and makes them take risks which will push them outside the more approachable aforementioned realms of theatre. This is why it was so refreshing to see many young performers jumping into deeper waters last night.

 Jon Toussaint (center) and Will Palomares (right)
Alongside impressive local talent, including Equity actors Carmichael Blankenship (Coalhouse Walker) and Annmarie Martin (Mother), thirteen young performers (high school or younger) have accepted the challenge of performing in a truly challenging production with a high-caliber company. Among them are Kyra Cherie Bowser and Will Palomares of Woodside High School, Cairo Spencer of San Mateo High School, Katherine Green of Everest Charter High School, and Jon Toussiant of Saint Francis High School. Each of them should be applauded for taking a leap into a bigger world and testing the skills they acquired in their school programs and through childrens' theatre.Beyond the kudos for their bravery, each of them (along with even younger performers in the show) get high marks for their talent. Bowser's extensive dance experience shows in her work as a part of the Harlem Ensemble, Green's work in the same group was always engaged and very strong, and Toussaint brought fantastic energy and strong timing to the role of Little Boy.

W.C. Fields famously said, "Never work with animals or children". While the first may be true (to a certain extent), I believe that the latter should be ignored. Young performers bring energy, passion, and a delightful impetuousness to the theatre. For them, the magic is still there and there is often no restraint to their energy. While this can create challenges for directors, the final product can be even more powerful thanks to the investment of these burgeoning thespians. They in turn grow in this noble craft, becoming stronger participants in the process and more savvy about the artistic world. This is clearly evident at Hillbarn where they have capitalized on some of the great talent our schools have to offer.

Hillbarn Theatre presents Ragtime
1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, CA 94404
Through September 23

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