Annette Hutton is passionate about her life’s work. With the help of her husband Richard and a small team of fellow visionaries, the Hutton’s are hosting their Youth Theater Workshops for the 18th season. Many Escalon youth have taken advantage of the opportunity for hands-on learning and stage production experience this summer.
“That’s why we bought this building,” Hutton said of the chapel located at the northeast corner of West G Street and South Church Avenue in Oakdale. “I was going to do one show a summer.”
The director shared 18 seasons later, those first few years shaped her into the teacher and mentor she is today. Recognizing that early on she felt the need to control much of the productions and how they took shape, Hutton learned over the course of time, that the students also play a part in the growth and development of any given production.
The 2016 Summer Workshop season began in late May. A total of five workshops, each two weeks in length, will be hosted at Hutton’s Hamlet Performing Arts Center. Each workshop is concluded with three live performances shared with friends, family and the community. Each production includes between 25 to 35 students ranging in age from seven to 18 years old.
The Hutton’s Hamlet Youth Theater Workshops are aimed at offering students a unique and memorable opportunity. There are no auditions and Hutton doesn’t cast parts until their initial meeting at the start of the two-week workshop.
In late December of each year Hutton decides on the productions for the following summer. By mid- to late-January information is sent to the families of past productions, as well as those who have expressed interest to be on the mailing list. By the end of February registrations are received and workshops are finalized.
“There is no problem getting on the mailing list,” the director said. “Fortunately a lot of kids come back from year to year. The Escalon kids are always the first to send in their registration. The Escalon moms coordinate so they can carpool over with their kids. They are usually a big part of the first two workshops.”
And while mixing in that wide a range of ages, Hutton said it does all seem to work.
“The older kids do not resent the younger and the younger idolize the older,” she said of the diversity. “They are so kind to the younger kids. A lot of them know, from when they were the young ones and they will nudge them (the younger) in the right direction.”
Eighteen years later, Hutton shared the workshops have morphed a bit, as well as become a staple for many Central Valley families. One principle, however, has remained the same, auditions are not conducted. Students are also now invited to express an interest in any particular part.
Hutton has learned that observation and simple questions serve her best when deciding on how to best place the students in their respective roles.
“I believe theater is so good for the child. So good for the development of the child,” Hutton said.
She shared that, as a child herself, she spent hours and hours performing one woman shows on her own in-home ‘stage.’ An area she described as nothing more than a large open floor to a sunk in area of her childhood home, but to her it was a stage.
“I wish I had been able to do something like this as a child,” she added.
This many years in, however, Hutton confessed that the pace starts to take its toll on a person who gives the 10-week summer run all her time and attention. Hutton also continues with music lessons at the Performing Arts Center, for the students who choose to attend year-round.
“Sometimes I think, I just don’t have the energy,” she said. “Then these little kids just beam on the stage and I get tears in my eyes. I remember why I do this.”
We are getting older,” Hutton acknowledged of herself and her husband, Richard, who does much of the labor portion of the productions. He handles building of the stage, processing payments, ticket sales, grounds maintenance and varying other projects. Backdrop design and build for each production is completed at the hands of set designer Carol McVeigh.
“I think this is what I’m meant to do,” Hutton said, reflecting on her career path and where it has led her. “To give the kids the opportunity so that they love it their entire lives. I can’t imagine stopping it. I think I’ll keep doing it, until someone takes it over.”
‘The Great Ghost Chase’ will be the next production to delight audiences, on Friday, July 22 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 23 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Performances traditionally sell out, so advance ticket purchase is suggested. For additional information on upcoming performances or to be added to the mailing list, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 848-1216.