by Natalia Radcliffe
The stage: Some live for it, some are terrified of it.
It is a place that allows escape from the mundane realities of daily life and into the fantastical world of imagination.
ESCAPE musical theatre is a local company that offers children the opportunity to explore the world of the stage when they need a getaway from daily life.
The company started back in 2002, rehearsing and performing in local grade schools. Nowadays, the nonprofit organization boasts over 300 participants in the program. It conducts shows at COC’s Performing Arts Center and has its own building in Santa Clarita.
“We went from one show a year, then maybe a year or two later, two shows a year, and now, this will be our third year with two shows and two weekends each,” said Elizabeth Burson, founder of the company and the artistic director, musical director and conductor.
For some ESCAPE alumni, it was more than just a pleasant activity to do a few times a week; it was their home.
“It was kind of like a childhood daycare, in a sense, all four of us kids growing up in the company,” said Kayla Burson, daughter of the founders and a choreographer for the company. “Being brought up in the company just meant that theater was always my home. I can’t even consider … my life without ESCAPE Theatre, and that just continued a passion past high school for performing for me.”
“I think it helps you to be creative, I think it helps you face your fears, I think that it helps you to talk to people of many different ages (and) communication skills,” said Kayla.
“Theater gives all kids a place,” said Leesa Veluzat, an assistant director of the company. “You can be somebody that … doesn’t really know what they like and hasn’t figured out what that hobby is or what that passion is, and it doesn’t have to be theater. …. That’s the thing that’s so beautiful about it … we have a lot of kids that end up, maybe being the shyest, quietest child, and then when they’re done with ESCAPE, they can talk, or (be) a lead in a show.”
The experiences children gain through participating in ESCAPE can help them not just on the stage, but in other aspects of their lives as well.
“What we want them to do is have some confidence,” said Kyle Burson, founder of the company and the show director, set designer and set fabricator of the company. “You can go into a job interview and say ‘Hey, I got no problem with this, I was in front of 900 people and performing, so it’s not as scary.’”
One long-time participant in the program put it this way: “(Children have) an opportunity to take risks and try things that they (have) never done before … with the support of friends, and then to discover that they could sing, and they could dance and they could learn lines and be funny in a role … their confidence grew,” said Barry Kemper, an assistant director of the company and technical director and stage manager.
Nine years after they first performed the show, ESCAPE will be doing “Li’l Abner” once again on June 14-16 and 21-22 at the Performing Arts Center. For more information, visit their website at www.escapetheatre.org.