Autumn Kersey performs on local stages and in commercials: She also has a day job selling ads for Idaho Business Review. But for the past 13 years, shes given her summers to the youth theater program she helped create.
I didnt feel I was launching a legacy. I just wanted kids to have the same experience I did, said Kersey.
Her family didnt have a lot of money to spend on extracurriculars when she was growing up in Twin Falls. Luckily for theater lover, Twin Falls has the Junior Musical Playhouse, or JuMP, an affordable youth theater program that thrives to this day.
That was my summer vacation, said Kersey.
When Kersey came to study theater arts at Boise State in the late 1990s, she wanted locals to have a program similar to JuMP.
A lucky confluence: Parks and Rec liked the idea. Boise Little Theater had a stage that was sitting dark every summer. A partnership was struck.
The culmination of each summer: A full-blown show at BLT that enlists the talents of scores of volunteers and students. This years offering, Willie Wonka Jr., opens July 19. More than 80 kids tried out for 40 parts. The cast ranges in age from 8 to 18.
An experiment that worked: Kersey directed the programs first show, Bye Bye Birdie, in 2000. It was also her first time directing.
We sold out all our performances and said, Lets try this again, Kersey said.
Shes volunteered every year since, seven of them as director.
Past shows: Grease, Anne of Green Gables, Guys and Dolls and others.
What are tryouts like? Kids audition in groups of 10. They have to sing.
We get a lot of Katy Perry, and a lot of Annie. The sun will come out tomorrow, quipped Kersey.
Is it tough to say no to kids who try out? Every child has a talent, a gift to give. I dont want to deny opportunities to explore that, but I also want to work with kids who want to be there and be committed, said Kersey.
She doesnt want the program to develop a reputation for playing favorites. So sometimes kids who have been in shows for years dont get a part the next time. Its not that theyre not talented, its just that its someone elses turn, she said.
You might get frustrated, said Kersey. But this is just one show in one summer. You have to learn how to cope with disappointment, pick yourself up and look for the next opportunity. Thats not just a theater lesson. Its a life lesson.
A volunteer crew: Fifteen adults form the production team, with the exception of a high schooler who runs the spotlight. Three of the adults were in Kerseys productions as teens.
Where does the money go? The city and the theater share ticket proceeds, and money is set aside for the next years program.
Kids pay $20 to participate. That gets them two months of theater training. The cast rehearses five nights a week for two-and-a-half hours, plus Saturdays to build the set. If families cant afford the $20, scholarships are available.
Art for life: Kersey misses out on lots of summer because she spends so much time at the theater.
But this is the highlight of my life, working with these young people in this capacity, she said. Its not just about producing a play. Its about creating an environment where young people can figure out what it means to be a citizen, be bold, be compassionate.
On the topic of this years show, how do you determine the proper shade of orange makeup for Oompa Loompas?
Our Oompa Loompas are not orange. But the audience will see other things that will make up for it, said Kersey.
Its a simple set, but Violet Beauregarde will blow up into a blueberry and Augustus Gloop will fall into a vat of chocolate.
Anna Webb: 377-6431