Spotlight on THE SNOWY DAY Director, Kandace Crystal

Jason Blitman

Kandace Crystal is an SDJT teaching artist and is currently working with Junior Theatre as the director of The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats. She was recently recognized by the Times of San Diego for directing two of San Diego’s top plays of 2021!

Kandace’s experience working with theatre kids goes way back. She believes there is an incredible connection one builds when working with theatre kids that you don’t get anywhere else. She says, “If the deep dive into social and emotional issues in a theatre class helps to transform one child’s experience as they navigate the muck of life, I am happy to be a part of that journey.” One of Kandace’s all-time favorite experiences was teaching a mime class at Nativity Prep, sharing that the kids were such naturals and jumped in feet first. Kandace has been a teaching artist at Imagine Brave Spaces, Blindspot Collective and Trinity Theatre Co., among others. “It’s one of those positions that I keep coming back to because it really keeps me in touch with the human side of this theatre world.”

Kandace began as a JT teaching artist this past summer and shares, “I didn’t know what to expect but the transition was so easy because the kids were awesome, the aides were professional and the environment allowed me to thrive as an artist and educator.” Her highlight from the summer was creating puppets with her students. “Building puppets from scratch allows for character development in a way that we may not have considered before. JT’s partnership with Animal Cracker Conspiracy for the puppetry in The Snowy Day is allowing the actors to explore this different medium.

When asked what drew her to directing, Kandace shared, “Everything in me tried to stay away from directing. But I was drawn to it, as I love putting the elements together in unique ways while helping people see themselves reflected on the stage and in these stories.” Someone in the field whom Kandace admires is Ava DuVernay, as both a storyteller and educator. “Her commitment to uplifting other storytellers is an admirable feat and that is something I hope to do as I continue in my career.”

Kandace shares that a snowy day is the perfect backdrop for what it means to be a kid and directing The Snowy Day is allowing Kandace to explore a beautiful story with a diverse cast. And, of course, there is the chance to work with puppets. “As an actor, I had to work alongside a puppet in the show Fuddy Meers.  Watching the intricacy that goes into building and operating a puppet intrigues me and I am excited for this opportunity to learn along with my actors as we work hard to get this show up and running.”

She believes that working with youth is a fascinating experience; to see the world through the eyes of kids today. Kandace wishes to remain a student to the craft. “Through it all, I hope to be a student at all times, as they help me continue to grow to be the best collaborative and educational director I can be.”

It should be noted that Kandace is not a fan of spare time. She has been working toward becoming a fully certified Intimacy Director/Coordinator, is Co-Chair of San Diego’s Theatre Alliance and just began a new position as San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Community Engagement and Partnerships Manager.

Kandace will be teaching a JT Studio workshop for our winter session: Tips, Tools and Trick for the Pre-Professional Actor. For more information, and to register, follow this link.

The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats opens on January 21 and runs through January 23. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please follow this link.

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Junior Theatre Welcomes New Education Director, Elissa Russell!

San Diego Junior Theatre, the nation’s longest-running youth theatre program, welcomes Elissa Russell as its new Education Director.

Elissa comes to SDJT from Theatre Aspen in Colorado, where she held the position of Director of Education Programming and Administration. Elissa has also worked as a teaching artist and administrator at Midland Community Theatre, Austin’s ZACH Theatre and Virginia Repertory Theatre. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin with a specialization in Shakespeare, and formerly reviewed theatre for the Austin Chronicle.

In Elissa’s position at Theatre Aspen, she made active strides in expanding outreach efforts in neighboring communities, placing the utmost urgency on expanding their current programming beyond Aspen to include areas with limited access to arts education.

She says, “It is vital to me to grow my career with a company that prizes equity, diversity, accessibility and creating a generation of future theatre lovers. San Diego Junior Theatre’s commitment to upholding these standards makes me confident that our ideologies are in alignment.”

JT’s Executive Director, James Saba says, “We are very excited to welcome Elissa as Junior Theatre’s new Education Director as we recharge, recalibrate and reimagine in-person educational programming in the Casa del Prado. Elissa is passionate about arts education and its power to transform lives and she will be a wonderful addition to senior staff.”

Spotlight on FROG & TOAD Choreographer, Emily Shackelford

Jason Blitman

Get to know Emily…

Emily Shackelford is a professional actor, teaching artist and San Diego Junior Theatre alum who spent 10 years with JT growing up. After earning her B.F.A. in Theatre from Stephen’s College, Emily went on to perform with many theatre companies in the Midwest, East Coast and New York, including the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Coterie Theatre, DC Arena Stage, Baltimore Center Stage, Syracuse Stage and Off-Broadway at The New Victory Theatre. As a teaching artist she has worked with The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Musical Theatre Heritage, KC Starlight Theatre, The Coterie Theatre and, of course, SDJT.

While a student at Junior Theatre, Emily appeared in a whopping 24 productions, including Annie, Peter Pan, Charlotte’s Web, SchoolHouse Rock Live, Once On This Island, Cinderella, Footloose, The Sound of Music, 42nd Street, Seussical, Beauty And The Beast, Little Shop of Horrors, Our Town and The Wiz. When asked about her favorite show, she says, “It’s hard to choose, but I remember especially loving Really Rosie and Zombie Prom.”

On the education side, she remembers loving the workshop classes, many of which were taught by Artistic Director, Desha Crownover. “Each course would focus on a musical or play, and we would put it on its feet by the end of the multi-week session. I was introduced to many amazing shows this way – A Little Night Music, Newsies – before it was the Broadway musical, 42nd Street, Pirates of Penzance, and more.”

Regarding her time at Junior Theatre, and how it impacted Emily as an adult, she says that it gave her confidence and drive. “It taught me lifelong lessons not only about the craft of theatre performance that I carry with me into my professional career, but more essentially, the importance of showing up for one another.”

Emily is excited to now work with Desha, as the choreographer on A Year with Frog and Toad. “I used to choreograph more often in my youth. Throughout that time I had the privilege of working with truly incredible and renowned choreographers, such as Sam Pinkleton, Darrell Moultrie, Lorin Latarro, Richard J. Hinds, Jeff Calhoun, Erika Chong Shuch and Jerry-Jay Cranford, and I hope to incorporate what I have gleaned from my experiences with them. They each were so inspiring to me, with distinct styles and skills for storytelling.”

And Emily is a big fan of this musical! She had the pleasure of performing in a production of Frog & Toad at The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri a few years ago. Emily played one of the Birds, as well as a Mole, a Squirrel, a Mouse, and the Large and Terrible Frog.

When asked about her goals working on Frog and Toad, Emily shares that she wants to give back to the kids at Junior Theatre today, the joy that she experienced when she was here as a kid. “It was a safe space to learn, feel challenged and develop friendships and community.”

And asked about her experience so far, she enthusiastically responded, “I am so impressed with this cast! These kids are energetic, sharp, hardworking and full of ideas! Which is the best thing for an actor to have.”

Junior Theatre is so excited to have Emily back with us for Frog and Toad’s adventures! Come see her innovative choreography in the show, which opens October 29 and runs until November 14. Tickets on sale now!

Photos below: Emily in Junior Theatre productions of Really RosieOur Town and Annie.

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Introducing SDJT’s Newest Member of the Family!

Jason Blitman

Meet Jason Blitman

San Diego Junior Theatre welcomes Jason Blitman to its roster of talented artists and educators! This fall, Jason will be teaching the first class in the brand new JT Studio series. And in the spring, he will bring his experience working on the original production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical to directing Junior Theatre’s production.

Jason attended The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago where he focused on Theatre for Young Audiences. He shares that he has always had a passion for introducing young people to theatre. When Jason went on to work as the Associate Artistic Director for TheaterWorksUSA, he was able to feed that passion by producing dozens of productions for young and family audiences, hiring hundreds of actors for shows that played Off-Broadway and toured around the country.

Jason’s other professional highlights include working as an assistant in the artistic department at The Public Theater, working on Sweeney Todd at the New York Philharmonic with Emma Thompson and Audra McDonald, an early reading of Dear Evan Hansen (when it was known as the “Untitled Pasek Paul Levenson Project”), and most exciting for JT, working on the development of the full-length The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical as its casting director and on the producing team.

Jason recently moved to San Diego from New York City and admires the work Junior Theatre does enriching the lives of young people.

“There’s so much more to arts education than [just] performing or a career in the arts. Learning and immersing yourself in the arts teaches you about discipline, collaboration, deepens reading comprehension, empathy, and so much more. It’s not about being the best, but about being your best.”

And while Jason’s first class, Mission: Audition is geared toward folks who are interested in working on their audition skills, Jason believes “it’s also great for anyone to learn about making an impression and being their best self when they walk into a room, which ultimately is what an audition really is.” Jason has watched thousands of people audition. Students will be able to take advantage of his unique insight and experience. “The class will be hard work filled with self-exploration, but will also be a lot of fun.”

And for those of you looking forward to our spring production of The Lightning Thief, Jason has this to say:

The Lightning Thief has been a part of my life for over 6 years and I look forward to bringing my deep appreciation and understanding of the story to this production. The Lightning Thief is about young people taking their life in their own hands, about perseverance against the greatest of odds, and there is no time like right now for the incredible young people of Junior Theatre to take a stand and ownership over their world. It’s my hope that everyone involved will have a killer time performing a kick-butt pop/rock score, epic fight scenes, perhaps enjoy a few fun rehearsal surprises, but also feel prepared to take on whatever monsters come their way.”

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Mission: Audition begins September 18 and runs for 4 weeks. To enroll, please follow this LINK. Space is limited and will fill up.