Young people tap creativity in Rainbow Company tryouts

Sitting in a circle Saturday in a big room with about 75 kids age 10 to 17 about to audition for the Rainbow Company Student Ensemble, I was reminded of how terrifying auditions can be.

I could see how badly most of these people wanted to become part of the group. Trouble is, they were competing for only eight slots. Theater can be cruel. I had agreed to audition alongside them so that I could better feel their pain.

Current members of the ensemble mingled among the hopefuls helping them relax. "How old are you, buddy?" one member says to an anxious-looking 12-year-old boy. They're soon into an easygoing chat about what being a part of the Rainbow Company is like.

"This is an intense training program in all aspects of theater," artistic director Karen McKenney explains to the group in a friendly but firm voice. "If you're looking to be a star, that's great, I respect that. But this program is not for you."

McKenney reminds everyone that those accepted will be learning about construction, lights, sets, costumes, sound, as well as acting, ushering, ironing, sweeping and cleaning a toilet.

"Parents," she says, "we will treat your children like adults, teach them responsibility, and, hopefully, they'll have a good time."

We're then divided into groups of about 12 each and led to the stage at the Charleston Heights Arts Center.

We form a circle. McKenney makes a wild, high-pitched sound and flaps her arms. She says she will slowly walk up to someone in the group, and that person will imitate her movement and sound, and then switch places with her. While in the center of the circle, the auditionee will continue the sound, and then slowly segue into a movement and sound of his own. Then he will approach someone in the group and the procedure will repeat. It's obvious the exercise is meant to tap into the student's creativity and willingness to take chances.

Soon, we're lined up and are each given an assignment: Walk across the stage as if caught in a weather element (rain, fog, tornado). Then, become that weather element. One person tosses herself about as if in a hurricane, and then transforms into an angry, arms-flailing, threatening figure.

Next up, we select two lines of a nursery rhyme and are instructed to say them in two completely different ways. McKenney reminds us not to worry about "right or wrong."

"Theater is not about two plus two equals four," she says. "As long as you (commit) to what you're doing, you'll be fine."

I see so much talent that I go home hoping that those who don't make it into Rainbow will understand that there are many changing variables for why anyone is selected for anything. I also leave in awe of the ability of kids to think outside the box.

I walked in apprehensive and came out relieved that I was still in touch with that part of me that can "imagine."

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.