We Started from the Bottom, and Now I’m Graduating

by Melissa Oomens

The stage lights blinded me when I first walked on stage. This was both a good and bad thing; it helped quell my nervousness because I could not see the audience, however, it meant that they could plainly see me. I took a breath and walked to my mark, in character, and sat down. The other two actors who were in my group sat next to me. We became fully aware of each other, making sure that everything we did was in perfect syncopation.

Melissa Oomens (center with book)

Melissa Oomens (center with book)

That was Some Are Beginning, Rising Youth Theatre’s first play. I was cast as Ashley, one of the girls in the Mean Girls’ Book Club. I remember Sarah Sullivan, co-founder of the company, telling me that she wanted to defy some stereotypes with this play by making the mean girls, stereotypically empty-headed, knowledgeable. At that time, just being able to read on stage, while also being sassy, seemed like a good time, so I was on board.

After that play ended, I knew I didn’t want to stop.

I started with Rising Youth when I was fourteen, going on fifteen. On July 1, 2015, I will be turning eighteen, and leaving Arizona to go to college. During those three years, between 2012 and now, I have been involved with Rising Youth Theatre one way or another. I started out as an actor, became an assistant stage manager and sound board operator for Shipwrecked, went back to being an actor, and now I am co-directing Fandom along with Sarah Sullivan.

Melissa (left) Renegade City Cosplay

Melissa (left) Renegade City Cosplay

I originally wanted to act in Fandom ever since Sarah mentioned it to me a year ago, knowing I would be excited as she was when she told me about it. However, Sarah gave me an offer I could not refuse (mostly great wording on her part), and I happily took on the responsibility of being the assistant director for this play.

Since the beginning of this process, I have been included in all of the workshops, meetings, and everything that comes with being a director. I was in school when I received the email with the script, so naturally, I read it while my teachers thought I was busy taking notes. When we were making casting decisions, I felt comfortable enough to speak my mind about some of the actors who I believed fit a certain part, and I felt heard.

I believe that is one of the most important things about Rising Youth Theatre in general. If you have an idea, you can share it, and the adult in charge will take it under consideration, and that idea may become an essential part of the process. It might even be a little detail such as where someone stands that they can bring up and say, “I don’t feel comfortable doing this, can I do this instead?” And during this process, some of the best blocking that we have set as our permanent blocking has been actors doing improv. We enjoyed it so much that we kept it.

Melissa (far right) at the first read thru of FANDOM

Melissa (far right) at the first read thru of FANDOM

The process for Fandom has made me realize how hard everyone works to make each play a well-oiled machine. I have observed the different parts of the process, such as the cold read of the script, casting, talking with designers, and coaching actors. Of course, none of this could be done without stage management either (shout out to Rachel Solis: you are amazing!). I am so glad that I was able to so many things within Rising Youth, as well, because it helps me understand each part of the process a little more. I know with certainty that, although this play has flaws (what play doesn’t?), we will make this show remarkable, by making our marks on the people who watch it.

During those three years, Sarah and Xanthia Walker, the other co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre, watched me grow and evolve into the young woman I am today. They have given me so many opportunities, which have served me well both in and out of the theatre. They’ve taught me so much, and I hope they know that they are not just my mentors and my friends, but they are also family to me. I will miss my Rising Youth family when I’m gone, but I fully intend to see any and all shows they have in the future. Maybe I’ll come back with a degree and become a resident adult artist with them. Who knows what the future holds?

By: Melissa Oomens

Melissa and Yolonda London in Venus in Stitches

Melissa and Yolonda London in Venus in Stitches

Fandom by Carrie Behrens will be performed at the Phoenix Center for the Arts June 13 – 21. Tickets can be reserved here www.fandomplay.eventbrite.com. Join the conversation on our Facebook (facebook.com/risingyouththeatre), Twitter & Instagram (@risingyouththea) and by using the hashtag #FandomPlay

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