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Barter Youth Academy

Brianna Galloway, Editor-in-Chief

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An activity, a hobby, a career, each individual experiences theatre differently. Some people may pick it up as a fun way to pass the time, while others will work hard to turn it into a job or career.

The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, is a good example of a local theatre that has existed for many decades. In order to be part of such an organization, the aspiring actor or actress must have experience. Fortunately, the Barter Youth Academy program can provide experience for young actors and actresses.

Several local middle and high school students have participated in the program; all enjoyed the Barter Youth Academy.

Madeleine Bullen, the Director of Admissions and the Technical Director for the Barter Youth Academy, helps focus the academy on education.

“The Barter Youth Academy is a program dedicated to educational theatre,” she said. “This means our goal, above all else, is to teach students not only acting skills, but skills they will use for the rest of their lives.”

Molly Turner is a student at Dobyns-Bennett High School who has participated in the program.

“Barter Youth Academy is an 8 week acting class with rehearsal once a week,” Turner said. “We audition on the first week and are given our roles. The next 7 weeks are spent rehearsing and putting the show together. After 8 weeks, we perform the show for our families and friends in a demo night.”

The adults in charge of the Barter Youth Academy have several responsibilities for the program.

“I am in charge of the registration process,” Bullen said. “I make sure that everyone is able to sign up for their classes. I also am in charge of the finances for the program, which covers everything from awarding scholarships to making sure that the crew gets pizza on demo days.

As technical director, she is also in charge of all the costumes, props, sets, lights and sound that BYA uses.

“I design, gather and create everything our students use for their demos,” she said.

Each participant had a reason for signing up for the Barter Youth Academy.

“I am participating in BYA because I have always wanted to act and I am homeschooled, so I never had a chance to partake in a school play,” Victoria West said.

Emma Shackelford, also a homeschooled student, registered for the program for somewhat different reasons.

“I participate in the Barter Youth Academy for the experience and everything that I learn from all the amazing directors,” she said.

The Barter Youth Academy takes up a lot of time.

“In the spring and fall, BYA picks a play based on a book and we have to practice once a week for one and a half hours,” Bullen said. “For the summer, it is a little different. They pick a musical and we have to practice twice a week for two hours. If you enter this program, you are expected to come to 75% of all your practices. You also need to memorize your lines by the ‘off book date’.”

The students who participated in the program enjoyed it.

“I love Barter Youth Academy,” Turner said. “It is such a fun way to become involved in theatre. The cast always becomes very close and you gain a new family every show. The directors are also great, and have taught me a lot.”

Shackelford feels the same way.

“I enjoy it a lot because there are never any roles with no lines at all and there is always advice for everyone,” she said.

Bullen believes that Barter Youth Academy is an incredibly important program.

“I think it is important to give students the opportunity to explore and create, and BYA is able to do that in a really unique way,” she said. “We are able to give students the opportunity to hone their acting skills and grow their confidence while giving them a chance to perform, and they got to do all of this in a safe, encouraging environment.”

Turner agrees.

“I feel that participants learn a lot from BYA,” she said. “It can help students overcome shyness or stage fright, or just simply help them become a better performer.”

Shackelford’s favorite thing about Barter Youth Academy is making friends and learning new things.

“My favorite thing about the Barter Youth Academy is the bond with your director and class, and the learning experience,” she said. “It’s taught me so much and now I have a whole new family.”

Bullen also has a favorite thing about the program.

“I would have to say getting to know my students is what I enjoy most about the Barter Youth Academy,” she said. “I really love getting to spend time with my students in class and helping them grow and learn. There are several students I have known now for 4 or 5 years and it has been such a joy to watch them grow up and to see what amazing young people they have become.”

The Barter Youth Academy program has taught its students many new things.

“I have learned a lot in BYA, including strategies for memorizing lines, ways to improve in improv, stage combat, and how to get more into my characters,” Turner said.

Working for Barter Youth Academy can, however, be stressful at times.

“The most stressful part for me is trying to deal with all of the money and paper work,” Bullen said. “I never want to make a mistake or make a bad decision, so I stress the small details.”

Bullen prepares for the classes so they can be successful and productive.

“I normally sit down and look at my script to make sure I know what I want to block that day and that the blocking is written in my script and then I will figure out what games or exercises we want to do,” she said. “These will all depend on what I am trying to teach my students, so I have to set clear goals for myself for what I want to accomplish that day. Then I will write up my schedule of how long I want to spend playing or blocking or giving notes.”

Turner wishes she could spend more time with the program.

“My least favorite thing about BYA is that rehearsal is only once a week,” Turner said. “I love being at rehearsal, and I feel that once a week isn’t enough.”

Shackelford disagrees.

“To be honest, I love everything about it,” she said. “In my opinion, there is nothing to hate.”

The people involved with the program have interesting stories about it.

“Oh there have been so many interesting stories, but one of my favorites was during my first semester of teaching,” Bullen said. “We were running the show and we had gotten to a group scene with about 14 elementary students on stage, and suddenly everything came to a stop.

All the kids had forgotten their lines and no one knew what came next.

“I had told them I wasn’t going to help them if they got stuck, they needed to learn how to work together and get out of situations like that, so we waited,” she said. “We waited for at least a minute and a half, if not longer, in total silence and then suddenly one of my kids started to slow clap, then another kid joined and soon the entire class was applauding and cheering for no reason at all. They kept it up until someone finally remembered their line and got the show moving again. That is when my new motto became ‘when in doubt, slow clap’.”

Turner also has many interesting stories from her time with the program.

“My BYA class has had many funny memories from deciding to have a sharpie war backstage, to a student running into a ladder backstage and making it fall, to a student attempting to sit down in a chair that turned out to not be there in the saddest moment of the play,” Turner said. “BYA is full of hilarious moments among the cast.”

Bullen recommends any student interested should participate in the program.

“Oh, absolutely, you should sign up for Barter Youth Academy,” she said. “If you can, you should. Even if theatre isn’t your passion, the friends you make and the confidence you gain will last your whole life. And if theatre is your passion, the skills you will learn will be invaluable as you go off into the professional world of theatre.”

Turner also encourages signing up for the program.

“I would recommend signing up for BYA if you want to start acting,” she said. “BYA is a great place to begin theatre.”

For those interested in signing up, Bullen has some advice.

“You can check us out on Facebook or on the Barter Theatre Webpage. Or you can give me a call at my office and I can answer any questions you have as well as get you signed up for the program. All of our contact info is on Facebook and the Barter webpage.”

Shackelford also has some advice.

“Don’t be afraid to be totally crazy onstage or at rehearsal,” she said.

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Brianna Galloway, Editor in Chief

Brianna Galloway is an 8th grade student at John Sevier Middle School. Galloway enjoys theatre, listening to music, and reading. Galloway also plays the...

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Barter Youth Academy