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Leslie Hormann joins Youtheatre as Executive Director
More classes, more outreach… and the biggest Best Christmas Pageant Ever
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Leslie Hormann-Stone, Youtheatre’s new Executive Director and the first-time director of the company’s traditional holiday production The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, laughs when asked about the multitude of new elements audiences will see in this year’s staging of the children’s classic. “I guess that I just didn’t have enough people to work with,” she jokes. “I wanted to add to the mayhem.”
Anyone familiar with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever knows what Hormann is talking about — there is plenty of mayhem taking place, and that’s just the stuff in the script. The tale of the wild Herdman family commandeering the annual Christmas pageant of their town church, The Best Christmas Pageant… uses humor to make a serious point about the meaning of Christmas. The Herdman’s, the town’s “bad” family, learn a little about community, and the somewhat sanctimonious congregation, the people who organize and run the annual event, learn a little about compassion and understanding.
That said, it’s a lesson hard earned by both sides. The rowdy Herdmans are quite a handful: they use bad language, shove other kids around, and — according to schoolyard rumor — smoke cigars. And those are just the girls. Beth Bradley, the play’s narrator, is caught in the middle. Her mother Grace is directing the play this year after the usual director breaks her leg, and Beth is annoyed by the Herdmans as much as anyone else, but also fed up with the snobbish attitude of some of her friends and the constant complaining from her mother.
That’s the set-up for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and this year, Youtheatre is adding a few extras to a production that already has plenty of stuff going on.
For one, a couple children’s choirs will join the production — the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir on Saturday December 18 and the Canterbury Choir on Sunday December 19. “There are so many awesome choirs in this city, I just wanted to bring in a choir and a musical component to the show,” says Hormann-Stone. “It just adds to the community connection. There are a lot of talented kids out there, and it’s kind of nice to showcase them in different arenas.”
They’ve added a few new speaking parts, with Youtheatre Artistic Director Harvey Cocks writing some new scenes to accommodate the expanded roles, and the “baby angels” in the story — the kids who sort of fill out the church’s Christmas pageant as angels — have been augmented with the “dancing angels.” “I wanted a little bit of a dance component to our production,” Hormann-Stone says, adding that the “dancing angels” are also a little bit of an affectionate tweak of the dance community. “Folks who do community theater will get it,” she laughs. “Everyone else will just enjoy the show.”
And Hormann-Stone is definitely one of those “folks who do community theater.” She joined Harvey Cocks as Youtheatre’s Executive Director last summer, and though some readers may know her better as Doc West’s morning sidekick on Rock 104, she’s also been very active in local theater, with roles in productions at Arena Dinner Theater, First Presbyterian, and the Civic, among others.
In fact, the position at Youtheatre is sort of a homecoming for her. “I started taking Youtheatre classes when I was in 3rd grade,” she says. “Youtheatre was at the old theater on Maiden lane. It’s a parking lot now. But my first show was in 6th grade, Alice In Wonderland. I was one of the cards. Didn’t have a speaking role then.”
“I’ve never been the ingénue type,” she adds, laughing. “I’ve done more character roles. I’ve played a lot of villains.”
For The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Hormann-Stone’s sister Jeanette Venderly, also a Youtheater alum (she was in the first Youtheatre play directed by Harvey Cocks), plays Grace Bradley.
Hormann-Stone taught for a while after college (her degree is in education), and found she really enjoyed working with kids in drama and stage productions. “Children are so enthusiastic,” she says. “They have such great energy, and they don’t have all the trappings of adulthood, so they’re willing to try almost anything on stage.”
The “expanded” version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is sort of indicative of some of the new things Hormann-Stone says Youtheatre is doing. Recently, there’s been more of an emphasis on outreach, and the organization is offering a wider variety of classes, including a “Technical Theater” class and a “Comedy Improv” class. “The comedy class came out of a student survey,” Hormann-Syone says. “They wanted a sort of ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway’ improv class. It’s kind of interesting, because it’s brought in older kids, and it’s definitely brought in more boys. Theater is always looking for boys. Offer a comedy class, and you get the boys coming in, all the class clowns.”
They’ve also launched a new touring group — Storybook Theater — that performs adaptations of classic children’s literature. They’ve performed at the library, bookstores, classrooms, and many other venues. “It’s just a way of bringing Youtheatre out in to the community,” she says. “And it also gives a spotlight to some of these kids who maybe didn’t make the cast of whatever play we’re doing. They can perform in another venue, and have the opportunity to develop their talent.”
Hormann is looking forward to Youtheatre’s winter/spring session after The Best Christmas Pageant Ever ends its run. “We’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up,” she says. “Youtheatre is such a great tradition, and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, December 18 (with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir) at 2 PM
Sunday, December 20 (with the Canterbury Elementary School Choir) at 2 PM
Tickets: $12.00 adults; $10.00 students/child
Box Office open December 13-17, noon – 4 pm
Or call (260) 422-422
For more info on Youtheatre classes, workshops, and events, visit fortwayneyoutheatre.org