THE EDGE - The Roanoke Times
February 7, 2007

Ready for the big show

Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio gives teenagers experience on stage.

By Katie Thisdell

They can dance, they can sing and they can act. It seems there's nothing teens at the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio can't do.

Through the studio program, Kevin Jones trains students in each of these aspects of theater, calling it a "voice studio, but so much more." Located in the renovated garage of his Cave Spring home, Jones offers vocal technique, acting and audition preparation.

There are several programs within the year-round studio. The Musical Theater Workshop is intended for students who are new to musical theater and are in seventh through 12th grades. With small groups, the workshop provides a more comfortable environment. The next tier of the program is the Ensemble, which generally includes teens with more experience. To maintain a professional nature for the program, students audition with a monologue, song and interview.

Benefits of Jones' program include weekly individual lessons, group workshops and professional head shots. Although they often cost hundreds of dollars, Jones includes head shots in the studio's monthly $225 tuition. They are an essential, Jones said, for anyone serious about theater.

Brooklyn Dudley is one of 28 members of Jones' studio. As a senior at Lord Botetourt High School, this is her fourth year in the Ensemble. She said the amount of time she spends on the program varies throughout the year.

"Weeks like this week, rehearsal lasts a few hours every day to do all the work that has to happen to make the show as wonderful as it usually turns out to be," she said.

All of the teens in the groups, Jones said, are motivated. Despite participating in numerous activities besides the theater programs, they all keep good grades.

"Kids that have C averages won't be able to handle this," he said. "It's not a typical high school drama group. Here, everyone is interested. They want to be here and they want to work."

Out of the 28 teens participating this year, Jones predicts four or five will major in theater in college. He believes his program is "a huge stepping-stone for anyone interested in acting."

Former students often e-mail Jones to thank him for the experience and tell him about their lives. One now appears on the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" while another works at New York City's famous Juilliard performing arts school. They told Jones they became professionals through his program and learned how to audition successfully.

"I'm not teaching just theater but also life skills," Jones said. "You're constantly auditioning in life. You have to prove yourself."

He tells the teens to have "confidence, not arrogance."

Jaime McWilliams, a junior at Patrick Henry High School, said she believes the program has helped her in many different ways.

"I've learned about so many new aspects of the theater and really just improved myself 100 percent," she said. "The whole experience has also given me a lot more confidence."

The teens agree that Jones teaches them a lot.

"He's so energetic," Brooklyn said. "He treats us like adults, and he genuinely listens to our concerns and opinions."

Brooklyn said that one of her favorite parts of the studio is "the challenge to continually improve, and to be great instead of good."

"It's a wonderful feeling when people who have been to more than one show tell you how great you have gotten," she added.

Last Saturday, the studio presented its fifth show called "Broadway Rocks!" that included songs from rock musicals such as "Rent" and "Aida." Jones said he designed the performance to showcase the teens' talent and voices.

"I build the shows around the kids so it's the best possible material for them," he said.

Like last year, the auditorium was filled to capacity and people were turned away at the door. So what does that mean for stage fright? Brooklyn said that while her nerves aren't as intense as they were, she still gets a little stage fright.

"With 900 people staring at anyone, how could one possibly be completely secure?" she said. "The best feeling is looking out and not being able to find a single seat open and seeing silhouettes of people standing in the back that really are interested in seeing us perform."

Jaime said she believes the audience is just as important as the performers.

"Performing for such a large group is probably going to throw us all off a little, but we'll end up just feeding off their energy," she said. "The audience provides a lot of energy, which is so important for a show like ours."

After four weeks of hard work, intense rehearsals and stress, Jones and teens in the studio were able to see their hard work pay off.

"I work them really hard, but in a nurturing way," Jones said. "For me, this is a passion, and I love it when they get on board and share it with me. Everyone has the same goal: The show has to happen."