PIKEVILLE – It’s 640 miles from Broadway in New York City to Jenny Wiley Theatre in Pikeville. But the staff at Jenny Wiley Theatre’s Footlights camp is bringing Broadway to a group of eastern Kentucky kids. Ruben Del Valle, who played “Young Simba” in The Lion King on Broadway at age 13, is now an adult professional actor bringing his wealth of experience to children as an instructor at the JWT’s Footlights Theatre Camp, which started on June 29. Under the leadership of camp director Kim Willard, Del Valle works alongside two other professional performers sharing their skills with the kids. The professional performers/instructors also include actress Jamie Cloutier (frequent performer with Alluvion Stage Company in Lynchburg, Va.), and Del Valle’s wife, choreographer Melissa Rosenberger.
The children at Footlights camp are rehearsing for their upcoming production of Disney’s Cinderella – Kids, which will be showing on July 9 at 7:30 pm, and July 10 and 11 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, at Jenny Wiley Theatre in Pikeville. This version of Disney’s classic musical fairytale will be 35 minutes in length and is the perfect show for families. In addition, before each show there will be a Princess Tea, a wonderful event for both the young and the young at heart. You can dress in your favorite princess attire to enjoy desserts and beverages, and a special visit from Cinderella. The Princess Tea will be held in the Upper Lobby at Jenny Wiley Mainstage Theatre in Pikeville. Tickets must be purchased in advance and accompany a ticket to the same day/time performance of Disney’s Cinderella – Kids. There is a limit of 50 patrons for each Princess Tea, so get your ticket today by calling 877-CALL-JWT or by visiting jwtheatre.com.
It will be inspiring for children to get to see other children onstage, and that is one of the main goals of the Footlights program. “Footlights is the training camp of Jenny Wiley Theatre. It’s for kids, and as much as possible, by kids,” explains Kim Willard, who runs the Footlights program as Director of Education for Jenny Wiley Theatre. The current camp consists of 35 children in first through sixth grades, most of whom are complete beginners in theatre. Willard states that campers have come from “all over eastern Kentucky and beyond,” including Hazard, Knott County and even Frankfort.
Campers are learning the show and theatre skills over a brief period—only 2 weeks! “It’s a compacted schedule,” says Willard, who is directing Disney’s Cinderella – Kids. “They are learning theatre skills on their feet. We’re not just talking about it—we’re doing it!” During the first week of camp, campers learn theatre skills by rehearsing the show from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm each day. During the second week, they do technical rehearsals with sound effects and lighting, and then the actual performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
These young actors’ hard work is well rewarded, not only by entertaining and enriching the community with their performance, but also by lessons that extend beyond the stage. “The theatre skills they learn like being able to be in front of others and keep tons of details straight, serve you in any walk of life. Also they make friendships that last and last,” explains Willard, who is also a professional singer and voice teacher.
Former Broadway actor and camp instructor Ruben Del Valle says of the camp education experience, “There are three words we are hoping to instill: professionalism, patience and being polite… Those are three things you have to have if you want succeed in this world.” Del Valle adds, “We are teaching them, be patient with yourself. Just because you can’t do it now, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to. It takes practice and patience. And that goes for theatre and for everything else.”
Del Valle knows a thing or two about success, in theatre and beyond. He graduated with his MFA from the prestigious Actors Studio Drama School (where he met his wife, Melissa Rosenberger), and originated the role of Jack Scott in the Disney’s stage version of High School Musical. In addition, he and his wife are proud parents to son Samuel, aged 18 months. Del Valle feels he is learning just as much from the children at camp as they are from him, stating he loves to see the kids perform and “to see them give it their all—they’re not afraid to be silly.”
Originally from Brooklyn and new to Kentucky, Del Valle is enjoying the natural beauty and hospitality of eastern Kentucky. Del Valle explains, “The mountains and scenery are gorgeous. Everybody has been very welcoming and so nice; it has just allowed us to have so much fun. It’s just been a great experience we are looking forward to the next few weeks.”
Del Valle and his wife are not only teaching at the current Footlights camps, but also at the two more Footlights camps this summer. The other camps will culminate in productions of Aladdin Jr. on July 23-25 and Legally Blonde Jr. on August 6-8 at Jenny Wiley Theatre in Pikeville. Tickets are now available for these productions and Disney’s Cinderella- Kids and the Princess Tea at Jenny Wiley Theatre in Pikeville. Tickets are also available for the adult professional productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Shrek: The Musical at Jenny Wiley Theatre in Prestonsburg. For tickets, call 877-CALL-JWT or visit jwtheatre.com. You can also find Jenny Wiley Theatre on Facebook and Twitter (@JWTdrama).