story and photo by Ryan Saylor
She may have just given birth, but for Young Actors Guild Executive Director Missy Gipson, the show must go on and that is exactly what will happen June 12 through June 15 as the YAG performance of Cinderella takes the stage at the Alma Performing Arts Center.
But even after giving birth Tuesday (May 27), Gipson was in touch with her cast and crew who have been working hard to make the fairy tale come to life.
"YAG alumni kids like … Logan (Sloan), who's the prince — who's going to be an alumni after this show — and they just are awesome. Like I just texted them. I was like, 'Listen, we haven't finished these two dances. I have to get them done. Can you finish them for me?' They just stepped up. So it would not have been possible if I didn't have the support that I have, which is amazing."
In spite of giving birth just two days before, Thursday's (May 29) rehearsal on the second floor of the former Fort Smith Public Library in downtown Fort Smith did not appear to miss a beat. But for performers like Sloan, a birth weeks before Cinderella's opening was just a slight hiccup.
Sloan, who will be a dramaturgy major at the University of Oklahoma this Fall, said the fact that he was even performing in Cinderella or going to the same drama school that produced actors like James Garner and Ed Harris was the result of a "mistake."
"Actually, I got into acting by … I had no idea about anything and my Spanish teacher asked me if I wanted to go see a production of ‘Wicked.’ And so I went to the production and after it was over, I was just in awe. I was speechless and I was like, 'I found my calling, what I need to do in my life.'"
The Pocola native said he was made aware of the Young Actors Guild by friends who suggested auditioning for a role in the production of “Footloose,” eventually being cast as Cowboy Bob, which he said was a "very good start."
For Sloan, performing as a part of YAG has allowed him to not only find his calling, but also find a way to experience moments in life he might not had have otherwise. His second role in a YAG-produced play, as hot Link Larkin in “Hairspray,” allowed him to see what it was like to be in someone else's skin, even if only for a few hours on a stage.
"It was really different for me. I'm more like the nerd and I got to play more like the lady's man. It was a fun experience. It's so much fun to be able to like slip into a different person, be a different person on stage."
It is those experiences, those moments where performers step outside of their comfort zone and transform themselves into different people that make YAG so important to Fort Smith-area youth, Gipson said.
"I think that more than anything, it's a rarely unique organization in that it provides really high quality theater training, life skills training — all the same — for no fee to the child. So what it does is it opens up an opportunity to kids that might not have that opportunity other places."
She said the life skills that come with performing and working with students from other schools include "confidence, the ability to talk to people, the ability to look people in the eye, public speaking, you know all those things are awesome. Of course the theater training is there, but so is the life training, which is, I think, just as important because some of these kids don't want to be actors, you know? And so we just want to offer that kind of opportunity to anybody that wants to be involved."
Molly Tennison, who graduated this month from Alma High School and was cast in the role of Cinderella's step-sister Portia, decided to forgo auditioning for her high school's drama program this year so she could instead get the experience offered by YAG, which has also put on such shows as “Big” and “Les Misérables” in years past.
"YAG is such an amazing opportunity for any young actor, dancer, singer, whatever you are out there because I think sometimes it is hard in school theater. There's politics, you know? This person may not like this person or whatever. But when you come to YAG, it's people from everywhere, like I said — people from Pocola, Poteau, Fort Smith, Alma, Van Buren, Ozark, everywhere. And you just get such an amazing experience being involved with everybody."
Gipson said the work of YAG is funded in a variety of different ways, including grants from the Arkansas Arts Council and private donors. But she said the guild can only really continue with community support.
"Ticket sales — that's really where our funding comes from. It's every year, it is an effort to do."
Tickets for the five performances of Cinderella June 12-15 will cost $15 for adults and $10 for students 12 and under and can be purchased by calling the Alma Performing Arts Center ticket office at (479) 632-2129.