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Which comes first, auditions or classes?

Parents whose children want to give live theater a try often face a common predicament: What do they do first, sign their child up for an audition or pay for acting classes first?

The same questions arise when the itch to perform hits teens and adults for the first time.

The resounding answer from directors, producers and experienced stage parents is: "It depends."

Variables include an aspiring actor's age and the family's financial situation.

Most local theaters have an educational division that sponsors acting and musical theater classes. Teaching programs provide structured training and are an important revenue source for the theater. But extensive training isn't expected in the local theater arena, especially when the actor is of a tender age.

"There are a number of excellent programs for kids," said Sid Riggs, drama teacher at Orem High and a frequent director at Hale Center Theater Orem. "Whether (children) take classes depends on their age, depends on the kid and depends on the teacher," she said. "If you've got the right teacher in the right program, hooray."

On the other hand, directors like the "natural talent" children have for being, well, children. "Children are in shows not to be adults but to be children," Riggs said. "I have a real prejudice against dance groups that take a 10-year-old and have them seduce the audience."

Riggs said a lot of the education actors get comes while rehearsing and performing. When directing a show, Riggs said she always takes her "teacher" role along.

Hale Center Theater Orem's education department includes voice lessons at a cost of $80 per month for 30-minute weekly lessons and $100 per month for 45-minute weekly lessons. Hale's acting classes cost $90 for eight weekly classes, and a musical theater segment that costs $250 for 12 weekly classes. Several other Utah County theaters also sponsor classes.

Hale's classes expose new talent to a wide variety of theater skills, said Ryan Radebaugh, director of Hale's education department.

Children and teens up to age 17 are the target audience for Hale's education program. "The most important thing is building their confidence. It's funny to see these students on the very first day of the session versus the last day," Radebaugh said. "If they come out of the sessions saying 'Yes, I love doing this' or 'No, this isn't the field for me, I'd rather do something else,' I'm fine with either one because they've learned what they want to do."

Hale's summer classes drew 110 young actors this year and 120 the year before that.

Piano lessons and dance training are familiar regimens among Paul and Christy Allen's eight children. Two of their older daughters tried acting classes, but family experience led the Allens, of Provo, to keep up with the dance training, and vocal training for two older daughters, while leaving the acting classes behind.

Six of the family's children have acting experience; three just finished performing in the SCERA's "Seussical the Musical," with son Jordan playing the lead role as Jo Jo.

"If the kids can move and they can sing, the director can teach them how to act," Allen said.

Hale producer Anne Swenson said spotting raw talent in young, inexperienced actors provides one of the joys of being involved in theater. "Very easily you can see in small children that they're going to be absolutely brilliant," she said, "But it is something you can also teach."

Natural talent and the desire to perform often blossoms during the high-school years. "Though they're still a diamond in the rough, they're easy to spot," Swenson said.

Swenson, Radebaugh and others agree that acting students, and their parents, may believe that taking classes at a particular theater will give them a better chance at being cast in a show at the same theater.

Director and Heritage School drama teacher Mindy Young said familiarity can help someone in an audition — if they have talent and are amicable to work with. "If you've met a kid in a class and you know they're talented and you know what they can do, that's a plus. But it's not like theaters only take the ones that pay the money (for classes)."

Being hard to work with presents the flip side of familiarity, Riggs said. "If you're in one of my shows, you are always auditioning. If you're late for rehearsal, if you're a jerk, you're on the line from then on."