CANTON — More than a dozen children happily rehearsed the musical “Annie” in a nearly empty theater at the Cultural Center for the Arts on a recent weeknight.
Feet shuffled and stomped in choreographed numbers before the kids got down on their knees and pretended to scrub the floor. The buckets rang out in harmony as the youngsters joined in the classic song “It’s the Hard Knock Life”. About a week before opening night, the atmosphere was contagiously cheerful.
And it was also a time of closure for some of those involved in the production of “Annie,” which is presented by the New Direction Performing Arts Academy. The director, assistant directors and some of the actors had presented “Annie” when the stage was used by the Players Guild Theatre.
Now they’re back to start a new chapter with the new Cultural Center Theater in downtown Canton, following the Players Guild Theater’s voluntary move to Kent State University in Stark, Jackson Township.
After:Players Guild Move to KSU Stark Opens with “Million Dollar Quartet” and Jukebox Musical
The second act of the theatrical space begins Friday with the opening of “Annie,” which features a cast of nearly 50 children representing public school districts and Catholic schools in Stark County, as well as students from Tuscarawas County. .
“We couldn’t think of a better way to launch space,” said David Whitehill, President and CEO of ArtsinStark.
The show is at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday before a second performance at the same times on the weekend on November 18, 19 and 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www. newdirectionperformingartsacademy.com/. The New Direction Performing Arts Academy can also be reached at 330-391-1604.
The cultural center is at 1001 Market Ave. N next to the Memorial Civic Center.
“I grew up in this building”
Lisa Knight, director of communications at the New Direction Performing Arts Academy, is among those for whom “Annie” holds special meaning at the new Cultural Center Theater.
Watching the children play, her eyes watered with emotion as she reminisced about her youthful days with the Players Guild.
“I actually started my theatrical journey when I was 11,” said Knight, who also serves as an assistant director and musical director with New Direction for “Annie.” “I grew up here in this building, and it’s where my closest friends were, and it’s where I learned the art of acting and made memories.”
Knight remembers helping with “Annie” in 2006 at the Players Guild Theater as part of a summer camp. Knight, 40, also gave voice lessons and one of his students ended up performing in an “Annie” production at the Cultural Center. The two are now close friends.
Of the upcoming performance of “Annie,” Knight said, “I think it will be one of my most emotional and proudest moments.”
“Being in this building is very nostalgic,” she said. “It’s fun that you remember all the memories from all these years, but also to create new memories with our new students.”
New Direction will now call the cultural center home for year-round performances and for summer camps, which were previously located at Umstattd Hall in Canton.
Taylor Bond, 31, also traces her love of acting to the Players Guild stage.
She was 17 when she starred as Molly in the Players Guild production of “Annie” directed by Carrie Alexander Spina, who now directs New Direction.
“It’s so special to be in this space,” said Bond, who teaches acting at local schools. “And it gives the community and the kids a place to perform.”
Bond is now working with Spina as assistant director for “Annie”.
“If it wasn’t for this space, who knows what I would be doing,” she said as she watched the rehearsal.
New start for the New Direction Performing Arts Academy
Spina also likes the stage at the Cultural Center.
“I think the most exciting thing for us is that we haven’t had a theater house since I’ve been here,” she said of New Direction, a theater outreach program for schools. .
Spina was Director of Education and Outreach for Players Guild Theater before launching New Direction in 2013.
Spina said New Direction and the Players Guild benefit from the new arrangements.
“We have a good relationship,” she said. “I support the guild and they support the kids.”
“Much of the community was sad that the Players Guild (leaving downtown Guangzhou), but it was not closing,” Spina added. “They were starting a brand new theater in Kent Stark, and for us, we had a fresh start as well.”
The cultural center theater plans to present tour acts
Whitehill, of ArtsinStark, said other uses are planned for the performance spaces at the Cultural Centre.
ArtsinStark, a 52-year-old nonprofit agency that promotes the arts in Stark County, oversees the Arts Cultural Center, which also houses the Canton Museum of Art and the offices of Sing Stark! and Cantonal Ballet.
The Cultural Center Theater includes both the Main Stage with 416 seats and the smaller WG Fry Theater with 139 seats. There is also a hall and a green room.
Vox Audio, part of Sing Stark!, will perform at the Cultural Center for the first time, moving their performances from GlenOak High School. Vox Audio will present “BELIEVE” concerts at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on December 17 and at 3 p.m. on December 18. Ticket information is available online at https://www.singstark.org/projects or by calling the box office at 330-452-4098.
Local theater troupe Avenue Arts is now based at the Cultural Center and has previously performed “Spring Awakening” and “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” on its new site.
Future plans for the main stage include regional and national performers in dance, comedy, spoken word, music and theater, Whitehill said.
“You shouldn’t have to go north,” he said of his entertainment trips to Akron and Cleveland.
“We’ll be looking to drop (2023) to really kick off a series of signature performances,” he said.
Whitehill, however, said the idea is not to compete with entertainment already available in downtown Canton, but to enhance overall opportunities while boosting the local economy. The idea is to “fill the void”, he said.
“So the more days and nights this space is active, the better it will be for downtown,” he said.
“We want several downtown scenes to be lit.”
“They will blow your mind, I promise. They are phenomenal.
Spina promises theatergoers a professional-quality production of “Annie.” Many students have already appeared in several plays and musicals through the Players Guild and New Direction.
“Don’t come just because you think they’re kids,” Spina said of the audience. “They’re highly skilled kids (actors), and it’s already their life and their passion, and you’ll see that when you watch these kids. They’ll blow your mind, I promise you. They’re phenomenal.”
Dan Armstrong III, 16, from Dover is among the students who will bring the iconic musical to life for audiences.
“The nice thing is that each song has its own story and its own feeling,” he said.
Performing at the former home of the Players Guild, Armstrong said, “It’s amazing that I can be here on this stage with a big role.”
Katie Deber, 15, from North Canton, has been acting in plays since grade one – ‘Annie’ was her first show. She has participated in nearly 30 productions in total.
“I feel like it’s timeless, it never gets old,” Deber said. “It’s just something everyone can enjoy.”
Caroline Harold, 17, from Plain Township, said ‘Annie’ is sentimental for viewers.
“It’s a show based on such a dark time, but brings light and good things that happened,” the Central Catholic High School student said of the story set during the Great Depression.
Athena Paxos, 11, a resident of Jackson Township, plays the role of Annie.
Paxos has starred in a dozen productions, including Players Guild shows.
She said it is an honor to help open the renowned theater space.
“It’s going to be full of energy,” Paxos said of the popular musical. “And I think (audience members) will have a smile on their face.”
Contact Ed at 300-580-8315 and [email protected]. On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
On Twitter @ebalintREP