Colin Meiring’s creative process thrives on stimulation. As artistic director and choreographer for this summer’s simultaneous productions put on by the Vail Performing Arts Academy, Meiring said two shows have been better than one.
“For my ADD brain, it has been fantastic,” he said. “I have been able to keep busy and keep creativity going for two shows at the same time.”
“Rent Youth Edition” and “Mulan Jr.” have given performing arts students of multiple ages a chance to step into the spotlight this summer. “Rent” is put on by teenage performers, ages 13 to 18, and “Mulan Jr.” is for ages 8 to 12 and any teens who did not want to perform in “Rent.”
“We have never had two summer musicals, and we are doing that because it gives kids the opportunity to experience bigger parts,” said Annah Scully, founder and executive producer of the Vail Performing Arts Academy. “It also gives younger kids their own show, so they have the opportunity to showcase their talents better; there are more lead roles and featured roles for all of the kids to discover and explore.”
The preparation for both shows has no doubt been rigorous. Rehearsals began on July 14, and in less than a month’s time, the shows are performed at the Vilar Performing Arts Center — “Rent” on Friday and Saturday and “Mulan Jr.“ on Sunday.
Rehearsals ran Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so it’s truly a school for the stage. The kids warm up all together, then while one group works on vocals, the other works on choreography.
“We have had to have a predetermined schedule so that each group is structured with time lines — divided up so that we get the job done,” Meiring said, “and with a great staff we are able to do that.”
Meiring and Scully’s direction has been supported by Melinda Carlson and Cindy Allard, who both direct vocals for the shows — Carlson for “Rent” and Allard for “Mulan Jr.”
“We are all working towards one goal — the productions,” Meiring said, “and it’s really good for the younger kids to have mentors and the older kids to be able to mentor the younger ones.”
The summer program gives students from all across the area, from Summit County to Gypsum, the chance to integrate beyond divisions of schools and grades, Scully said.
“We bring together a lot of kids, and their friendships cross geographic, racial and economic lines,” she said. “We meld all of these creative students in the area together, and there is a very nurturing atmosphere where they can develop these friendships; because they are together exploring their passion, it gives them a common denominator that is extraordinary, and the friendships go beyond the shows.”
On-stage sneak peak
While “Rent Youth Edition” is meant to be played by high school-aged actors, the themes in the show are still mature, and Scully said a lot of the themes, including drug use, homosexuality and HIV are probably not appropriate for young children.
“It is not a Disney show,” she said. “But ‘Mulan’ is.”
Rocky Walder, 16, plays Mimi, an exotic dancer, in “Rent.” Walder is going into her ninth year with the Vail Performing Arts Academy, and she said it has been an awesome experience to grow with the academy. With her team’s upcoming “Rent” performance, audiences will see a serious but high-energy show, she said.
“It discusses things that are sometimes uncomfortable to talk about,” she said. “It talks about the AIDS epidemic; back in that time (the show is set in 1988), no one was comfortable talking about AIDS. This shows how our characters lived through that time and found each other and found happiness and love in this horrible, horrible time.”
Mimi’s love interest is Roger Davis, a musician played by Santiago Arguelles, 18. In the show, Davis has just found out that he has HIV.
“He is very resentful about his whole situation because he lost a lot of things so fast, so he is angry at the world,” Arguelles said. “The story shows how he gets through all of it and the friends he made along the way.”
The character of a gay professor with AIDS, Tom Collins, is played by Thomas Litchez, 15, who is in his third year at the Vail Performing Arts Academy. Tom Collins’ love interest in “Rent” is Angel, a drag queen played by Danielle Cheimlewki, 15.
“It’s probably one of the hardest shows that I have done with VPAA,” Litchez said. “It’s pretty long, and also the music is very challenging and the characters are very complex; you need to spend a lot of time figuring out who you are and what your connections are with other characters, not to mention getting all the vocals down and memorizing the lines.”
‘Brings you out of your comfort zone’
“Mulan Jr.” is the opportunity for the younger kids to highlight their stage skills.
Finn Ditty, 12, plays the dragon in “Mulan,” Mushu. He said the show has been fun, and he has learned a lot about performing.
“I have to help Mulan become a boy soldier,” he said. “She runs away from home, and I have to try to help Mulan get back in the Guardian Temple.”
Mulan is played by Sophia Nisonoff, 13. She said she has done eight shows with Meiring, but Mulan is the biggest role she has had.
“I am excited to perform it with all of my friends,” she said. “It sounds good and the staging and the dances look really good; it’s fun to perform.”
Nisonoff said Meiring helps to make everyone better on stage.
“He makes sure you are comfortable, and he also brings you out of your comfort zone,” she said.
Grant Maurer, 12, who calls his character “a big fat soldier” (Chein Po), said this will be his 10th show with Vail Performing Arts Academy.
“It’s just a lot of fun, and they don’t judge you, and you can do anything you want, and you don’t have to be embarrassed,” he said. “They are like a second family.”
Meiring said it all has started to come together, even after less than a month of preparation.
“These creative kids who like to express themselves on stage are all together in one dynamic group,” he said. “It’s been really great, and I am proud of all of them. They are doing an amazing job, and they have stepped up to the plate with the challenging material and are really proving they are capable.”
The Vail Performing Arts Academy has started sign up for its fall revue, “Young Broadway.” Visit www.vpaa.org for more information and to register.