YST Musical Theatre Workshop | A Chat with Jack and Gloria Bennett

Local community theatre where young performers thrive

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | SouthPasadenan.com | YST directors Jack Bennett and Gloria Bennett with choreographer, Mirai Booth-Ong

It will be two years in December since Young Stars Theatre made their South Pasadena debut with a stellar production of A Christmas Carol at Fremont Centre Theatre. It was a long journey and a dream come true to find a home for the prolific youth theatre group. As they prepare to open their summer camp, full Broadway musical production of Annie Warbucks, we spoke to directors Jack and Gloria Bennett about their unique YST Musical Theatre Workshop.

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | SouthPasadenan.com | Fremont Centre Theatre, home of Young Stars Theatre in South Pasadena

Young Stars Theatre comes to South Pas by way of North Hollywood and Florida. The company began years ago when Missouri bred and Wisconsin educated Jack met New Orleans bred Gloria when they worked together at the only equity theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. As fate would have it, they were both out of town when the show was cast but when the director had to replace two people, he called Jack and Gloria. The next summer Gloria hired Jack to direct a summer camp show that she was musically directing and that show was, wait for it…Annie Warbucks! Twenty years ago exactly, so I guess we can say this is an anniversary show of sorts for them. They continued the summer camps for nine years. After a few years, they realized that the young thespians needed a place to keep acting during the school year and Young Stars Theatre was born; a year round community theatre for youth actors.

In 2005, they made the move to Los Angeles, landing in North Hollywood. In 2008, they leased their own space where they built a 60 seat theatre, but like so many other enterprises, the recession hit them hard and they had to let it go in 2010. They were once again a roaming theatre company, renting spaces whenever they had a show until they saw that Fremont Centre Theatre was available for lease in December of 2015. “Long story short,” says Jack, “we fell in love and well, there’s no better way to learn how to use a parachute than to jump out of a plane, so that’s what we did.”

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PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | SouthPasadenan.com | Jack Bennett, Gloria Bennett and Mirai Booth-Ong in the courtyard of Fremont Centre Theatre

During their years in North Hollywood, a young actress/dancer came to audition for The Sound of Music and was cast as Sister Margaretta. The show was so popular, they extended the run and lost their Maria and choreographer. So, this young actress asked to audition for Maria and oh, by the way, she choreographs too. Her name is Mirai Booth-Ong and she ended up becoming their resident choreographer and remains to this day. South Pasadenans may remember seeing Jack, Gloria and Mirai in their fantastic show I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a fantastic four-person show where they all play multiple roles, that they did in 2016.

There are several reasons why YST’s Musical Theatre Workshop productions are unique, not the least of which is the level of professionalism that is expected of the kids. Jack emphasizes, “yes, our focus is in creating great performers but our main concern is that these kids walk out of here being better people. If they don’t become better performers or never act again, that’s fine. We’re more interested in creating good people than good performers.” Gloria goes on to say, “when we talk to the kids about work ethic through what we’re doing, we talk about respecting each other, being kind to each other; they have to learn to work together and how to listen to each other.”

Expanding further, Mirai says, “I think theatre is one of the few disciplines that teaches you self-responsibility as well as teamwork and collaboration. We expect a level of work ethic that I don’t even think they are doing in school. We expect them to have those lines memorized and if I give them choreography, they are expected to know it the next time I see them.”

Jack explains that “we have no one else backstage. The kids handle everything; costume changes, set changes. That’s possible because we provide a pretty structured environment that actually once they adapt to, they eat it up.” Gloria also explains that the “older kids mentor the young ones; they are actually assigned to them. We give them the chance to prove that they can do this.”All three agree that what drives them is the joy they get every day from doing this, “there aren’t many rooms you can walk in and the entire room screams ‘Mirai!!’ and runs to hug you,” gushes Booth-Ong. Adds Gloria, “the prize is when we do the show and the parents get to see what we do.”

YST’s fall show is Legally Blonde and auditions are Saturday August 19. To schedule an audition and to get on the mailing list email yst@musicandtheatre.com

YST is a 501(c)3 non-profit community theatre created to provide opportunities and training for young performers. Productions are made possible through ticket sales, donations, grants, program ads and some workshop production fees. Visit www.youngstarstheatre.org for information and click donate to become a YST Supporter, Angel, Guardian or Producer.