The Youth Theatre Northwest readies for its latest production of `Charlotte"s Web"

By Nicole Meoli

If Ben Keylin has said it once, he's said it a million times: ``The Youth Theatre Northwest is not a theatre, we're an educational institiution that focuses on theatre.''

So, what's the difference?

Probably a part of the theatre's mission statement sums it up best: ``Surprising as it might sound, it is not our mission to produce young actors. Our curriculum is designed to develop life skills such as confidence, critical and creative thinking, cooperation and aesthetic sensitivity.''

``It's just not all about the theater,'' said Keylin. ``If a child wants to be a lawyer or a writer or something else besides an actor, this (school) helps with that by building people skills and self confidence.''

Though Keylin is passionate about this, he believes the greatest thing the theatre can offer children is the experience of working with other children of all ages on mutual projects.

``The only time children really interact with kids of other ages is when they get to college,'' said Keylin. ``Here, you could have an 8-year-old and a 14-year-old working together on something and that age barrier becomes non-existent.''

And the kids are working hard for their upcoming production of the classic ``Charlotte's Web.'' The cast consists of 31 actors raging in ages from 7 to 15. Ellen Zahniser, 12, plays Charlotte; Caroline Kangas, 14, plays the goose; Rhiannon Batson, 13, plays Mrs. Arable and newcomer, Vivian Mae Reeves, 9, landed the role of Fern after her first-ever audition.

This is the third time in 21 years that YTN has produced Charlotte's Web. Artistic director Mimi Katano said that she ``brought it back not only to introduce it to the younger audience but also for the older kids and adults to revisit and discover new things.''

When choosing productions to perform, typically YTN takes into consideration several things. Namely, how many parts are available, how much learning can be accomplished, if the production will enhance the director/kid relationship and will it be enjoyable for both the children and the audience. It's easy to see why ``Charlotte's Web'' was chosen.

All of the animals will be represented by full-on costumes and the production design team, including Brian Jackson, has been building the set for the past six weeks.

Aside from Charlotte's Web, Keylin is swamped getting ready for two fundraising events for YTN. January 21 and 22 is ``Love Changes Everything,'' a cabaret featuring musical theater songs under the direction of Katano and YTN students Michael Holtzman, Casey York and Amy Berryman.

Then in February, The Garageniks will play a benefit rock and roll dance/concert at the VFW to help the theater raise money. Already, even before these two fundraisers, YTN has raised 38 percent of what is needed for the year.

``All of this activity is amazing to me,'' said Keylin. ``We'll use every penny that is raised; it all goes to paying rent, bills, salaries. We keep it tight around here.''

Charlotte's Web will open Friday, Jan. 28 and run through Feb. 13, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Opening night has a pre-play reception that starts at 6 p.m.

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