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Theater group gives more than acting lessons
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Melissa Wilke, 22, a member of The Young Americans, sings a solo during a performance at Lakewood Baptist Church on Monday. Wilke was going over one part of a larger performance the Young Americans would later perform Wednesday with North Hall students. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Listen to North Hall High School junior Rob Brooksher sing his original song, "No One Listens to You."

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Listen to members of the Young Americans do a version of the Beatles’ "A Little Help From My Friends."

Young Americans

Watch members of the world-touring cast in a production with Gainesville High School students.

When: 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gainesville High School’s performing arts center, 830 Century Place, Gainesville
How much: Free

It’s sort of like a boot camp for student actors.

But instead of groaning in pain or feeling embarrassed by their actions, the kids who get to take part in the Young Americans’ theater workshops this week will also get lessons in self-confidence and inner strength.

The Young Americans, a touring company made up of more than 200 18- to 25-year-olds, is spending the week in Hall County working with young actors on improvisation, singing and auditioning. The group in town this week includes 43 of the Young Americans, who spent the first half of the week working with North Hall High School students. They move to Gainesville High School today.

Workshops begin at 4 p.m. today and run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, all that hard work is rewarded with a full-scale production, open to the public, that comprises the things the students have been learning in the previous two days.

The Young Americans held a similar show on Wednesday with North Hall students.

Rob Brooksher, a North Hall junior who took part in the workshops earlier this week, said he was looking forward to brushing up on his dancing skills.

"If you go out in the real world, it’s not like you’re going to have three days to learn a dance. You’re going to have to audition and learn it," he said, noting how the Young Americans showed them moves and then gave them a tight deadline to learn them. "For me, it’s the memory and just learning it."

His friend Allison Cape, a ninth-grader at North Hall, agreed that the Young Americans were good about showing the students tricks to learning the moves quickly.

"It needs to be broken down, and they’re pretty good about showing us that," she said.

Pam Ware, head of the drama department at Gainesville High School, which has hosted the Young Americans the last few times they have been in town, said the workshops are a unique opportunity to be taught by professionals.

"They’re so very positive, and they build self-confidence," she said. "You might have the shyest of (children), and after they’ve had this experience they might be singing a solo in the performance on Saturday.

"They bring out the best in these kids, and they are such positive role models."

Desi Dennis, 23, who has been touring with Young Americans for five years, said she’s seen a similar change in the students she taught.

"From what I’ve seen, I’ve seen kids find confidence they never knew they had in 17, 18 years of life," she said. "All of a sudden in two days they find something they never thought they could."

Dennis’ mother was a Young American, and she said the experience of being able to tour with the other young cast members has helped her become a better person today.

"I probably wouldn’t be talking to you right now," she said of the way she was before joining the group. As she looked at her shoes and stuffed her hands in her pockets, she added, "I’d be over there in the corner somewhere, like this."

Part of the Young Americans’ production on Saturday will feature an original song written and sung by a Gainesville High student. Wednesday’s show featured the song "No One Listens to You" by Brooksher.

Earlier in the week, Brooksher said he had the chance to sit down with a member of the Young Americans to record a demo.

"They take a singer/songwriter from each town across the country and at the end of the year they compile them all together and make a CD," he said. "And then they take the one they like the best and fly him or her out to LA to actually record for a CD."

Which also meant that, like it or not, Brooksher had to bare his songwriting soul in front of a crowd. And that’s also part of the Young Americans’ experience, said Young American Josiah Burns.

"It forces you to be honest with yourself," said Burns, 21 and a member of the group for the past four years. "If you can do this, or we believe in you, and just put it on yourself to see inside every kid what’s holding them back. ... it brings out the best in every person.

"You can support each other, and there’s so many things you learn, and one thing leads to another thing. It’s really cool."

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