Learning On the Job

Hi, all. My name is Savannah Woodruff, and I’m the Sound Apprentice this year. I just graduated from UNC-Greensboro in May, and headed here to Roanoke barely a week later!

When I first heard about Mill Mountain Theatre and then proceeded to research them, I decided that they sounded like a company which cared about their employees and the quality of their work, and that they were located in what seemed like a pretty cool city. This position quickly went to the top of my list of desired jobs, and I was (and still am) absolutely thrilled to have received it.

Sound is an interesting and fun (as far as I’m concerned, anyway!) facet of theatre because it can be utilized in a number of ways to help create a more immersive theatre experience. Collaborating with directors to find, choose, and edit sound effects which fit the needs and mood of a show is one of my favorite parts of this process. The right phone ring or drum beat can add an extra something to a scene!

But my job can also be a challenging one. I have learned a lot about trying to fight wind, really loud traffic, and various other outdoor obstacles with microphones this summer (if it sounds difficult, I promise it feels even harder). I’ve also had to learn patience for when something goes wrong and it can’t be fixed immediately. The show must go on, and sometimes that means that it must go on with a slight hitch you can fix at intermission but not yet. I can only hope that, over the course of the summer, I have done the amazing group of artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with justice.

I will be sticking around Roanoke for a while longer to work on Willy Wonka, Jr., and while I don’t know where life will take me afterwards, I’m infinitely grateful for the opportunity to have been here and experienced this summer with such wonderful and talented people.

Wildly Fanicful

The lights quickly fade to blue, I stare out in the vast darkness that is back of house. I take a deep breath and spell “chimerical: highly unrealistic, wildly fanciful” a word that has come to mean so much to me over the last few years as I have dreamed of this moment.

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Lizzy Hinton as Olive Ostrovksy

My name is Lizzy Hinton, and I am playing Olive in Spelling Bee as well as Kaa in The Jungle Book. I remember the first time I heard the “I Love You Song.” It was the first night of Musical Theatre camp, and quite honestly, I was a little homesick. So, you can imagine how heart-wrenching this song was to 16 year old me. This role quickly became both a wildly fanciful goal and my biggest dream role, but I was set on a different path. I auditioned for the show twice during my sophomore year of college, but was not cast. I began to think that this show was truly “chimerical.” However, exactly one year later, I finally was cast in my dream show! One slight hitch, I was cast as Schwartzy! Again, one year later, I sit here watching the Bachelorette, reflecting on my experience playing my dream role at last. Since Schwartzy was very different from my own personality, I learned so much while portraying her. Her relationship with her dads has now helped me delve in to Olive’s relationship with her dad. What an incredible experience to get to see and live in a show from two vastly different perspectives. It has influenced my character’s relationships with the other characters, as well as my internal monologue throughout the show. Bottom line, this is an experience for the books, and I will never forget all that I have learned from this show.

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Lizzy singing the “I Love You Song” with her onstage parents played by Jillian Hannah and Josh Walker

The Importance of Balance

“Make sure to take time for yourself…go get some dinner…” Travis says to me…yet again.

My name is Heidi, and I am the Stage Management (and also Company Managing/Tour Managing) Apprentice of the Summer 2017 Apprentice Company. It’s a terrible and wonderful thing to be involved in something that you love so much and would use all your spare time toward, but only get a few breaks a day. I feel like I know myself fairly well, and I know that given the opportunity, I would throw myself into my work here (which, frankly, doesn’t feel like work), but over the course of this apprenticeship, I have come to learn about a crazy thing called balance.

Heidi post croppedThere are many different kinds of balance I come across on a fairly daily basis. There’s the work vs. self time balance, work vs social, doing it myself vs asking for help, and the ever present “do I fast food on a break or make something I have at home” balance (for which the answer for me is sometimes “go to Benny’s, then get in my alone time by eating it in the theatre all by myself”). It’s difficult to know when to tell yourself “you know, maybe it would be better for me to have a night to myself, even though I really want to spend time with my friends.” And it’s difficult to know how to tough it through the paperwork even when you just want to go to bed. It takes quite a bit of conscious effort to find the right balance of things and avoid burning out, but it’s really really easy to have the time of your life here because you are so busy and involved. You’re in the thick of things with people who all share the same objective of producing theatre, have the same busy schedules as you, and who are finding their own balances of life.

Coming here, I was so scared I would not be able to handle all the demands of stage management in a professional environment, knowing that I would have to work two shows essentially in rep, one of them being a tour that I am in charge of every facet of, and also do shop hours/camp, and also do paperwork, and also be social, and also sleep sometime, but I’m doing it. There is SO much happening around here and it is so busy that sometimes I do have to get some self care in by running to Benny’s and eating alone in the theatre before everyone comes in, but truly, the only way to handle this amazing craziness is to remember that there is always a balance to be struck.

“This wasn’t the plan”

The Mill Mountain entourage pulls up to the touring venue as the sky unleashes it’s best monsoon impression. Costumes soggy, and equipment slippery, we unload our production of “The Jungle Book.” “This was not the plan”, we think. Apprentices pick their way through a field as grassy dust swirls around 3 lawn mowers plowing right through our play space. “Couldn’t have planned for THIS”, we say to one another. We enter a room full of overflow furniture, no bigger than a New York cracker box apartment, where we are to perform in mere minutes. “Contingency plan, ready, set, GO!”

My name’s Claire, and I’m not exactly what you’d call a “conventional” apprentice here at Mill Mountain Theatre. I’ve been lovingly deemed the “sage sister”/”grandma Claire” of our group, having graduated from college a few years ago now. Right out of school I had a distinct vision for what my life would be: move to a big city, audition every single day, and be breezily living out my favorite F*R*I*E*N*D*S episode by the time I was 25. But when life took center stage, my dreams and plans were left waiting in the wings. This summer, I was looking to dive back in full force. I auditioned for the Mill Mountain Apprentice program with the hopes of being challenged, and to flex my acting muscles before I make the next career step. At the very least, I thought, I’d have another musical and play to paste on the resume…

What I’ve gotten? A reawakening of why I love doing what I do, a family of the most talented individuals I could ever meet, and a thirst for learning more about my craft in top notch master classes. Individually I am challenged by playing completely different roles in repertoire. I am learning about the importance of managing time, and the “good tired” that comes from a 10 hour rehearsal day. As a team, we’ve worked together to fully stage two shows now, troubleshoot when things on tour go awry, and are learning to dance in the chaos. And it’s only week 3…

An apprentice, just a few days shy of turning 25, begins to tear up with gratitude and joy as she sings the opening number of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” “No, this certainly wasn’t the plan. It’s SO MUCH BETTER.”


Week 2

Script analysis, informative masterclasses, awesome cast-mates, brilliant directors, and $5 lunch specials at Alejandro’s Mexican Grill?!  What’s not to love about being a Mill Mountain Theatre Apprentice!  My name is Josh Walker and I am a recent William Peace University graduate and I am thrilled to be here!  It’s only been 2 short weeks since we started this amazing journey here at Mill Mountain Theatre and I feel like I have learned a lifetimes worth!

IMG_9526.JPGThroughout the first two weeks we have staged and put up “The Jungle Book,” sung through musically and blocked the first half of “…Spelling Bee,” had 3 masterclasses, AND began working on our showcase!  It is incredible how much we have accomplished while still having enough time to bond with my teammates and explore the town!  Everyone that I have met, whether that’s crew or staff, has been such great models of what a hardworking, professional, caring theatre family looks like.  When there’s a problem, we fix it!  When someone has an idea, we embrace it!  When something doesn’t work, we keep trying until it does!


This past Saturday we had our first performance of “The Jungle Book” at Heights Community Church and it went great!  The weather was perfect, the cast did an amazing job, and it was truly beautiful to see how much we impacted the kids that were in the audience! Their faces lit up when they got to meet us afterwards. I am truly grateful to be lucky enough to work at Mill Mountain Theatre!  Needless to say, I am beyond thrilled to spend the rest of my month here!


Week One

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Christopher Castanho, Acting Apprentice ’17

It has been just over one week since I’ve arrived in Roanoke, VA for my apprenticeship at Mill Mountain Theatre, and although it feels like it’s been so much longer than that, it’s in the best way. The friendships I’ve forged, lessons I’ve learned, and stories I’ve told have been in surplus amount, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my time spent here so far.

I’m Christopher, by the way. I’m 22 and just graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with my BFA in Musical Theatre. As part of my apprenticeship with Mill Mountain I’ve been contracted to perform in their touring production of The Jungle Book as ‘Chil – The Kite’ and other jungle animals, in addition to playing ‘Leaf Coneybear’ in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The program also has a teacher training component where we learn how to communicate theatre games, and work with students of all ages. As part of that educational training we receive masterclasses in different acting techniques throughout our time as well.

Director Travis Kendrick with Apprentice Lizzy Hinton

In this first week alone we:

  • Read through “The Jungle Book”
  • Blocked the whole show/had a stumble through of “The Jungle Book”
  • Learned all of the music to “Spelling Bee” and had a read/sing through
  • Had three masterclasses on Viewpoints, Physical Theatre, and Acting for the Camera
  • AND got ice cream!

It’s been a whirlwind! There are 9 apprentices total – one stage management apprentice, one sound design apprentice, and seven acting apprentices. We all live on the same floor in the Theater’s housing building, and share a huge kitchen, spacious living room, and open community dining area.


I can honestly say that working on these two shows has been incredibly exciting and artistically enriching thus far. I definitely sought out the audition for this program because of Spelling Bee as I’ve played Coneybear before and LOVE performing that show. But it’s been a pleasant surprise how deep and layered our production of The Jungle Book is, and how much fun I’m having. Children’s theatre tends to have the stigma of being very one dimensional, but our show has so many different thematic components, as well as it being a very physical and imaginative piece of theatre.

I think you’ll be hearing from me again later this summer, but be sure to follow me on social media in order to see my point of view throughout these next six weeks: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and my website.

The 2017 Company has arrived!

This past week marked the beginning of the 2017 Summer Apprenticeship, and the company is off to the races. Our company of nine rolled in last weekend, and hit the ground running with rehearsals for both The Jungle Book , The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and some early teaching artist training. Since then, it’s been 12 hour days, toggling between the two shows, taking master classes with resident and guest artists, and making beginning preparations for their company conceived showcase performance. I’m fairly certain they’ve also found time to eat and sleep, and I’ve heard there might have been a board game or two thrown into the late night mix.

For those of you who followed the exploits of last year’s Apprentice Company through this blog, you can expect some new things from this company. The 2017 season has been a year of growth for Mill Mountain Theatre, and our work with the Apprentice Company reflects that. This year in addition to a touring young audiences’ show that takes Mill Mountain Theatre performances to public venues across the valley, the Apprentices will be rehearsing and performing a fully produced, full-length musical on the Waldron Stage. Adding this to the already full schedule of master classes, crew assignments, and teaching artist work is sure to make these next six weeks a thrilling and educational experience for the company. This blog will give them an opportunity to reflect upon, and share with you, their growth.

The 2017 Mill Mountain Theatre Apprentice Company

This year’s Apprentices come to us from as far as Dallas, Texas, and as close as Winchester, VA. They are as talented a bunch as we’ve had the privilege to recruit, and we can’t wait to introduce them to Roanoke.

Check back later this week for the first post from the company! And be sure to join us at the amphitheater at Heights Community Church in Grandin Village at 10 AM this Saturday (June 3rd) for the opening performance of The Jungle Book!