Parents would often watch their children act or undertake improv after a stint with Barter Youth Academy. Then, they’d ask the director, “When do we get our chance?”
Today, Michael Gerber answers that question decisively, simply saying: Now.
Gerber, who served as the youth academy’s director from 2014 to 2017 and has been teaching theatre for about 26 years, has founded Appalachian Performing Arts Academy (APAA). The academy’s first official class starts Jan. 11.
The academy wants to help individuals create and produce their own work.
“It is open to everyone,” said Gerber, “all ages, all skill levels, all experience levels.” The academy, he said, can help someone who’s worked on the stage for years and just wants to hone a skill, and it can also help an individual who has never performed.
Gerber believes APAA will be “a great creative outlet for people to explore new ideas of their own.”
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“One of my favorite things in the world is to see somebody who’s hesitant but wants to dip their toe in … to suddenly realize they’re good at it. Too see the light go off,” said Gerber. He told of working with individuals who tell him they’re not funny only to discover that they’re “the best I’ve ever seen” at comedy or improv.
“There’s something about being able to help people discover their inner creativity,” the APAA leader said as a way to explain his passion for the work. Gerber believes “everyone on the planet has a spark of creative genius.”
It’s APAA’s mission to help people tap into the spark. The process, Gerber said, can lead to self-discovery and self-empowerment.
APAA’s first class is designed to help individuals with such a process. On Tuesday, Jan. 11, APAA will start “Your Life, Your Story” in which students of all ages will be given the chance to create a live performance of a memorable and personal moment.
“You create, you write your own monologue,” Gerber said. “You’re the writer and the performer.”
For the class, Carolyn Koesters, of Wordcatching, which guides journaling and promotes the practice’s therapeutic benefits, will join Gerber to take students through creating a personal monologue and then polishing it for a live performance. While most of the six-week class is online, students can choose whether they want to perform in front of an in-person audience, or have a recording made of the performance.
The class will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays online from 7-8:30 p.m. for five weeks. The final week of Feb. 15 will be set aside for monologue performances.
Gerber said he’ll coach participants on the fundamentals of acting and will be available to them for one-on-one coaching.
APAA is also available for one-on-one coaching sessions to help theater-makers and others with audition skills, monologues, confidence in public speaking, and many other performance-related subjects.
Gerber said he’s worked with groups ranging from law firms to high school and college students.
For groups, he noted that APAA is available to come to their location to offer instruction. The academy serves a region from Kingsport and Johnson City, Tenn., to Marion and beyond.
Additional one-on-one coaching sessions cost $50 per hour.
Gerber also hopes APAA will serve to connect artists of a variety of types. He noted that Sarah Laughland, a Barter alum and dancer, was recently in the region, and APAA connected her with Grace Studio of Motion and Dance for a pop-up jazz dance class. APAA also presented a live conversation with David Alford of Cross Purposes Productions on film acting.
Down the road, Gerber said, “Our future plans include acting classes and a variety of improv classes for all ages, as well as some sketch comedy classes, where students will get to write their own material and then have it performed by our actors.”