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Shout and Stomp: Addressing Veteran Trauma Through Performing Arts

American History Theater

Join American History Theater in partnership with Cygnet Theatre for "Shout and Stomp: Addressing Veteran Trauma Through Performing Arts". This three-hour interactive workshop will feature three local performers who will share their specific and inspirational stories and the coinciding performing art which has helped them and others.

We are ecstatic to host Antonio TJ Johnson, Vietnam Veteran, and local award-winning actor/producer; Rayna Stohl, seasoned dancer, Dance Director at Canyon Crest Academy and certified therapist; and newcomer Laurissa Rudgers, newly graduated Cal State San Marcos theater major, who will perform and share her story of trauma and healing. We encourage local performers, advocates and of course veterans to attend this powerful and moving event. 

American History Theater Receives First Grant

American History Theater

We are very proud to announce that we have been awarded our first grant! We are completely indebted to Chris Bryan, who heads our technical crew, for taking the initiative to apply. The grant was generated by the Electronic Theater Controls company, and is geared to help non-profits in the performing arts realm of philanthropy.

“In case you didn’t know, this same company who designed and initially created theater lighting the way we know it today,” said Bryan. “It is THE name in theatrical lighting. “

The pre-requisites for the grant werethat the applying organization must be specifically purposed for any of the following: Performing Arts, Performing Arts Education/Welfare, Community Betterment, Wizard Development, ETC Employee-driven.

Bryan applied under the fact the AHT is a performing arts company, with the purpose of educating the community on historical events, and also largely involved with community benefit. He asked for just some basics that would greatly improve show quality.

“I asked for the minimum of what I felt we needed to truly improve our setup, with the hopes that if I ask for a tiny portion we might receive something… anything helps,” said Bryan.  “I asked for two LED wash lights, and any board that accepts midi for control.”

AHT received the LED wash lights and a new lighting board that is far more advanced than the system Chris and his team were using before. The new equipment will ensure smoother shows, less technical difficulties, and easier integration with other systems we may need to work through at the establishments where we put on shows.

“In essence these new items help to ensure true quality of equipment for the foreseeable future of American History Theater which will hopefully limit future spending on lighting equipment,” said Bryan.

We are honored to have received the grant and we are especially proud and thankful for Bryan’s work in making this first grant a reality!

The Director’s Corner : Taberah Joy Holloway

American History Theater

If you ask Taberah Joy Holloway what she prefers, acting or directing, she’ll tell you writing. Holloway, who is directing American History Theater’s most recent production, “The Odd Couple”, has been on the stage, curating what happens on stage, but all of that is encompassed in what she considers her life’s mission, which is “to tell stories so people feel more connected to themselves and each other”.

“The Odd Couple”, to debut at The Veterans Museum at Balboa Park on December 9, is Holloway’s first director’s position.  She has also had her time on stage as part of a cast and as a solo act in American History Theater’s “Waiting for MacArthur”. Through her experience in theater, she’s developed some definitive viewpoints.

“I think the hardest lesson, or something I am still attempting to master, is how to keep the forest in mind when there are so many trees.”

Keeping the bigger picture in mind is a large part of functioning as a director, actor and as a writer.  As a director, there were some particular words of advice Holloway shared.

“Talk to other experienced and inexperienced directors,” said Holloway. “Both will have valuable advice. Newer directors can better remember what it was like walking into a room full of actors and all of their hopes and expectations. Also, ask for help when you need it.”

And then there are the lessons that Holloway is still learning.  Motivating a cast can be daunting. But, according to Holloway, the task is easier when you make sure you give them the creative leeway to bring their own voice to the character, while still providing structure.

“I don't really think you can make someone do anything they are not inclined to do,” said Holloway. “Meaning, in order to get anyone to do anything there has to be some buy-in from them.  Fortunately my cast was very motivated. I let them play and experiment. That is something I'm also learning - when and how to impose structure versus letting the creative process unfold.”

Holloway’s step into the director’s corner began with acting, a pastime that she has grown to love.

“I have always loved being on stage. It is very, very easy to be in the moment on stage. There is no past or future there. There is only the moment. It's a delicious place,” said Holloway.

But, when asked what she loves MOST about acting, she concedes that it is all about the people. Her greatest joy, she says, is working with the tech people and the actors who know how to put on a show.

“What I love most about theater is the community that it creates,” said Holloway. “I have made very good friends through theater and learned a lot about myself and how I best work with others in the process.”

But in the end, for Holloway, it all boils down to the stories. The creative process for acting and directing begins with writing, which is Holloway’s first love.

“I consider myself first and foremost a writer,” Holloway said. “Acting and directing has helped my writing immensely. I think more about action than I ever did before, and I think about the concrete ways that action will be carried out.”

Holloway’s director’s debut with “The Odd Couple” will begin on December 9. Shows will go at 7 PM Dec 9, 10 and 16, with two matinee shows on December 11 and 17.  We hope to see lots of folks come out to support Holloway as a new director and support the rest of the American History Theater family who makes our theater sector go! 

Samantha Stavely as Zelda Fitzgerald

American History Theater

In meeting Samantha Stavely, there are few things you learn about her right off the bat. You learn that she is not only a powerhouse of an actress, but stalwart in what she wants, even endearingly stubborn.

“When I want something, I want it. And I want it YESTERDAY,” says Stavely.

Currently, Stavely will be performing the role of Zelda Fitzgerald in the organization’s Fall Season production of “The Last Flapper” at The Women’s Museum of California.  Her relationship with acting goes back to a young Stavely, who entered the world of theater after exercising that endearing strong sense of what she wants.  As a youth, she saw a memorable theater production by The Young People’s Theater at St. Charles Community College near St. Louis Missouri. From that day on, Stavely decided performing was something she wanted to do.  Stavely convinced her mother to let her try out for an upcoming role, but the show’s director gave her mother a bad impression and she ended up not being able to participate.

“My mom thought the director was horrific,” recounts Stavely.

Two more years passed, and still Stavely couldn’t let go of her desire to perform. So with some goading of her mother, she was allowed to try out for The Young People’s Theater and attained her first role, although the director for the show was the same one her mother had disagreed with two years prior.

“It was the same director, and she WAS horrific!” said Stavely. “She was tough, but she taught me discipline and taught me a lot about the acting world that I really needed to know.”

Samantha stayed with The Young People’s Theater for years, doing three shows a year and getting into the routine of acting regularly.

“After all that my mom saw that I was really serious about this and she saw that I was actually GOOD, and she became really supportive,” said Stavely.

It was at the age of 13 that Stavely first met American History Theater founder and president, Hal Berry, who directs her for her role as Zelda. Berry was looking for child actors to play in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Stavely auditioned and was even given a prominent scene where she was able to sing, yet another talent Stavely boasts.

When asked what she got from acting at such a young age, Stavely shares some interesting insights which many actors and actresses may relate to.

“I was a very anxious child,” said Stavely, “and theater was the only thing that helped to alleviate that. It gave me the chance to step out of myself and into somebody else’s skin,” said Stavely.

Through the years, Stavely continued to act, acting through highschool and into college, making musical theater her education path. It was at this time Stavely began to take into account the life she would live if she pursued her passion of acting.

“I knew I’d be living paycheck to paycheck and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that,” said Stavely.

She changed her degree to Arts Management, then eventually attained her Master’s in Speech and Theater Education. She continued to act on her own throughout the rest of her college years, but took a long break when she moved to Los Angeles with her husband three years ago…until Berry, now living in San Diego and running his own 501C3, came knocking on her door.

“The longest break I ever took from acting was when I moved to LA,” said Stavely.

With almost three entire years of no time on stage, Stavely is now back, tackling the role of famed artist, writer and flaming schizophrenic, Zelda Fitzgerald. Known most iconically as being the wife of famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda was actually her own throbbing powerhouse of creativity, emotion and intelligence. The entire play conceptually takes place in an insane asylum, where Zelda languished for many years after the death of her famous husband. Stavely hopes to bring to the stage Zelda’s intense personality, that of a woman possibly far ahead of her time.

“My one hope is that I can do the role justice,” said Stavely. “I want the audience to like her, because she was likeable. I want the audience to feel so many emotions because she was strong, but at the same time lost. She was also so, sosmart. We had to cut a few words that were so big we knew no one would know what they meant! ”

Stavely also hopes to tackle the stigma that comes with intense mental health disorders, like schizophrenia, which Zelda was eventually diagnosed with.

“I did a lot of research on mental health,” said Stavely. “Understanding the disease and how it was treated at the time was interesting. For me to get into the role, it was really all about educating myself. Mental health can have such a stigma, but I want the audience to see how mentally ill she was, but still like her!”

Doors for the show open at the Women’s Theater of California for the debut of “The Last Flapper” on Sept. 24th. Come see Stavely take to the stage once more as the likeable (maybe even loveable?) Zelda Fitzgerald.