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Creative Corner: Community theatre inspires dream to make the art accessible to all

Not everyone has the same opportunities to access the arts
Shaina Levison, Musical Theater Performer
Photo by Lisa Patchem Photography

Shaina Levison feels incredibly lucky to have grown up in Longmont with its thriving arts scene, particularly with the city's access to community theater. Her first performance was in Oliver! at Longmont Theatre Company, or LTC, at nine-years-old.

"There's a lot of access to community theater and semi-professional theater in Longmont so I got to start participating in a lot of it at a young age. I don't think that would happen where community and not-for-profit theater isn't as supported," Levison said.

As Levison continued to explore her acting, singing and dancing, she had the opportunity to study at TARA Performing Arts High School in Boulder. She said, "the high school I went to was a Waldorf school that was specifically focused on the performing arts. It's one of the only Waldorf schools in the world that's structured that way."

A Waldorf school offers “a developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically-rigorous approach to education,” by integrating the arts in all academic disciplines, according to the Waldorf Education website

It was at TARA that Levison fell in love with musical theater. 

Levison was able to go on trips to see theatre in New York City and London. She also participated in a play and musical every year she was enrolled in school. 

She feels most connected with the singing aspect of musical theater. Levison said the connection with the audience, particularly in the emotional feedback from singing, improves her acting as well.

"There's something about the creativity and the obvious work, care and love that goes into singing that helps me connect with an audience more successfully ... There's a tension that's in the room between you and the audience when you're singing that you can't replicate with acting or dancing," Levison said. 

As with many people in the creative professions, Levison works to find the balance between authenticity and industry expectations.

"We all look different. We all sound different. And, of course, there's some pressure to look the way people want you to look and to sing the way people think you should sing," Levison said, "The reality is that we are all different and that should be embraced."

Recently, she participated in a virtual masterclass and learned more about making theater accessible to all. 

"I just finished a six-month masterclass and production with the Women's Theatre Festival that typically runs out of Raleigh, North Carolina. This year they made it virtual so there were people from all around the world who got to participate," Levison said. The group performed "Theatre: A Love Story" by Caridad Svitch.

The group was cohort-based depending on the participants' particular focus of acting, directing or production. The experience motivated Levison to look into how virtual theater can create more access for those communities that may not have an active arts scene or enough arts funding. One of the program's significant offerings was instruction on creating a home studio.

"One of the major things we learned is how to produce virtual theater out of our homes. So, now we all have home setups. We all learned a lot about lighting production and how to be your own stage manager doing virtual theater," Levison said.

She feels lucky to have both physical access and financial access to focus on performance work. 

Like many creatives, she works a day job. She works as a hairstylist at Sweep Balayage Bar in Boulder. She hopes to incorporate her hair and makeup work into her performance work. She loves her work because it has a similar creative process to undertake. 

"To me, one of the reasons why I also love doing hair is that it's a very similar artistic process to performing. They don't sound the same at all but I feel like you have a person who is guiding you through the process. For instance, your client or your director has an end goal in mind for what they want from you. But, then the artistic process you choose to get there is pretty much up to you," Levison said.

She recognizes that not everyone has the opportunities she does. 

"I'm very privileged to be in a place, both physically and financially, where this is even something I get to focus on and work on," Levison said.

It's created her passion for accessibility. "One of the things I've become passionate about is virtual theater because it's more accessible to underfunded communities and people who don't typically have access to art," she shared. "In the future, I want to explore how to make art more accessible to everyone."