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The City Journals

Arts council expands reach to children and seniors

May 18, 2017 02:22PM ● By Tori LaRue

Eliza Gabbitas, KarLe Smedshammer, Sam Bates and Tynan Portillo pose for a picture at a Taylorsville Arts Council “Seussical the Musical Jr.” rehearsal. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Taylorsville Arts Council expanded its programs this year to better include participants of all ages. The council usually puts on two adult-based plays each year, but this year it added youth and senior productions to the mix.

“Taylorsville is opening lots of doors for lots of talented people,” said arts council member Wendy Dahl-Smedshammer.

The idea to create a show for seniors came last year after the arts council’s production of “Snoopy! The Musical,” which ran for three days at the Taylorsville Senior Center.

“The cute little seniors would come see the show and be like, ‘I want to do that,’ so you give me a challenge and I’m like, ‘We need to do it,’ so we added a senior show,” Dahl-Smedshammer said.

Smedshammer created a production called “The Love Show” based off the American TV show “The Love Boat,” which aired in the ’70s and ’80s. Seniors presented personal talents during the production in February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, and a couple emcees tied the acts together with a “Love Boat” theme.

But including the older community wasn’t enough diversification, according to Dahl-Smedshammer. The council also wanted to increase opportunities for children to take part in local theater by doing a youth-only production.

More than 50 children age 6 to 17 will bring “Seussical the Musical Jr.” to the Alder Amphitheatre on the Taylorsville Salt Lake Community college campus on June 9, 10 and 12 at 8 p.m. The musical brings whimsical characters from many Dr. Seuss books into one show. The cat from “The Cat in the Hat” and Horton from “Horton Hears a Who” are two of the main characters.

Eliza Gabbitas, 10, plays the lead part of JoJo, a young, imaginative child who is underappreciated in the town of Whoville. She said she’s thrilled Seussical Jr. is giving her and so many other children the chance to play major roles within the plays that they might not have otherwise.

Eliza has been seen on stage in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and a previous production of “Seussical,” where she played in the ensemble both times, and she said she’s excited to be in her first musical where she has solos and “something more to share.”

At 17, KarLe Smedshammer, Dahl-Smedshammer’s daughter, is one of the oldest actresses in the play. Even so, she thinks the youth theater is a valuable experience because she gets to watch the younger participants gain confidence through theater.

“It is cute to watch these little kids find a little part of themselves that they never knew was there in the first place,” she said.

Theater changed Smedshammer’s own adolescent years for the better, and it continues to help her learn and progress, she said.

“I think it makes me have a higher self-esteem, and I feel better about myself,” Smedshammer said about acting. “I also get to know how some other people might feel in a different life, like stepping into other people’s shoes.”

Smedshammer plays Mayzie, a spunky and rebellious bird who makes some poor life choices. Smedshammer said she’s never played a role like this before but said it’s helped her learn about what repercussions come from negative life decisions.

Tynan Portillo, 17, on the other hand, said he’s learning the opposite from his role in the play. Portillo’s character, Horton, an innocent and friendly elephant, is a contrasting character for Mayzie. Portillo, who has played a host of bad guys in other plays—including Papa Gae from “Once on This Island,” Richard III from “Richard III,” and Caliban from “The Tempest”—said he’s learning the kind of good he is capable of as he studies his character.

“I could very well be a gentle elephant just wanting to have someone understand,” he said. “It is all part of who I am, and I get to choose who I want to be.”

Being in the youth theater play is also helping Portillo garner up a work ethic and level of commitment that translates into his work and school endeavors, he said.

Similarly, Sam Bates, who plays The Cat, said youth theater is “the best thing that could have happened” to him.

“I used to be really shy, and as I’ve done more theater, I have come out of my shell, and it has helped me with public speaking because it’s helped me develop the ability to put myself in front of a crowd,” he said.

Dahl-Smedshammer, who’s directing “Seussical” said she’s grateful these local children and teens are learning teamwork, memorization, integrity, work, movement and math all through a “magical” storyline.

Dahl-Smedshammer invites all community members, regardless of age, to learn from “Seussical” by viewing the outdoor show in June. Tickets can be purchased at entry for $6.