In a fast-paced jaunt through difficult material, a cast of local teens and young adults rush around the stage at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, rehearsing for three upcoming performances that will showcase the work they’ve put into their “summer intensive” theater program at Apex Theatre Studio.
On June 24 and 25, the nonprofit performing arts training center will present Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” – the first of two summer intensives open to artists ages 14 to 21 – at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
“This is our third year, and our advanced-level artists wanted to take on a challenge,” Producer Ian Mairs said. “It doesn’t get any more stimulating than Sondheim.”
A cast of 16 high school and college students was chosen from more than 50 applicants. Schools represented in this year’s production attend University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida and Flagler College as well as area high schools, including Nease, Stanton, Episcopal and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
Apex staff said the summer intensives were designed for advanced high school and collegiate students – people who are really committed to musical theatre and want an advanced program.
“We want them to have an experience that is similar to what their first professional job will be because smaller professional theatres don’t have the luxury to pay performers to come in and rehearse for three weeks. That’s kind of unheard of today,” Mairs said. “So you have to learn how to work fast and we wanted to give them those skills.”
Lauren Bell, who will portray Little Red Riding Hood, has participated in Apex summer intensives since the beginning. She was in Apex’s first production of “Godspell” in 2014 and again in the same production the following year as well as “Spring Awakening” and last fall’s staged reading of “She Kills Monsters.”
“I can’t get enough of it,” Bell confessed. “It’s really fun.”
The 17-year-old rising senior and musical theatre major at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts said she enjoys padding her summer with quick-paced theatre workshops such as Apex Studio Theatre’s summer intensives in order to hone her musical theatre skills.
She also enjoys the camaraderie of meeting and working with fellow performers, noting that the cast of last year’s production of “Godspell” remains close and still keeps in touch.
The talent Apex brings into the program is also a draw, she added. For example, “Into the Woods” Director George E. Judy – who also directed Apex’s production of “Spring Awakening” – is a professor of acting and directing at Louisiana State University as well as a member of Actors’ Equity and the Screen Actors Guild.
This will be the first time Apex students perform at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. In addition, “Into the Woods” will be the first-ever musical performed at the concert hall.
Mairs noted that several members of the “Spring Awakening” cast were from the Ponte Vedra area and said he was approached by parents asking him if he would consider doing something in this area. That led to the first brick and mortar location, which opened on Palm Valley Road the first week in May.
In addition to the summer intensives, the studio is running a summer camp for students ages 10 to 17. Between the intensives and the camp, the studio will have more than 100 students participating in their programs this summer – a sizable increase from the nine students with which the program began.
Performances of “Into The Woods” will take place Friday, June 24 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for students and seniors.
The second summer intensive production, “Godspell,” will be performed at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall Aug. 5 and 6.