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

Christopher Castanho Headshot1
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!

Keeping it Together

13607000_10100802896311333_5087224674677908839_nHello friends!  My name is Meg Morrill and I’m the Stage Management/ Company Manager Apprentice for the 2016 summer!  Well..I was, I’m writing this just as we’ve finished up our final week here at MMT.  So many emotions are going through my mind right now as I say goodbye to so many new friends.  But I’ll touch more on that later, first a little bit of background.  I’m a rising senior at Christopher Newport University where I’m a theater major with a concentration in directing and dramatic literature. Yes, I do both.  I love Stage Management and Directing equally.  I think they have many similar qualities to them, and I couldn’t choose.  So, as you can imagine, my life is a little hectic.

“Mom…mom…mom!”  I hear this as Alex needs me to run sound so he can check the speakers. “Hey Mom!”, Drew calls me because he needs safety pins for the curtains.  “Moooom” Tres calls me because his suspenders snapped off.  All things I can’t go do yet because I’m taping a mic to Jillian’s face.  This is basically what happens everyday, I’m the problem solver, I’m there to pick up the pieces when things get crazy, I’m mom.  I always knew that being the stage manager was like being a mom, but add the company manager title to that and now I’m mom times two.  Every aspect of the show from travel, to set up, to starting on time, is on my shoulders.  It’s a lot of pressure for one person, especially since I had never done anything like this before.  My idea of a stage manager was in a dark booth on a headset calling cues.  Now here I was running between loading mic batteries and cutting a melting prop cake in 90 degree heat.  One day, I came back from a show that started off running late. Someone’s mic belt was missing, an actor got hit in the face with a cord and had to perform with a swollen lip, a few sound cues were missed, a mic went out, and everyone left tired and angry.  I felt like a terrible stage manager, I laid down on my bed for a good 30 minutes wondering what the heck I was doing with my life.  But took as a lesson and I moved on, I woke up the next morning and did another show and everything went fine.

This has been the most challenging but rewarding experience I’ve had with my theater career thus far.  Some days were more challenging than others, but I asked for this…literally.  When I took this job Anna and Jay both told me I had the hardest job, and I told them “great!”.  I wanted the challenge, the field I have chosen is not easy and I don’t want it to be.  I don’t start at the bottom like most people do in office jobs to work my way up.  On day one, I walk into the rehearsal room and I’m the manager, the leader that everyone looks to for help when they don’t know what to do. It’s scary, and exciting, and requires the person to have themselves together.  I have to stay organized and alert at all times.  But I also have to remember to take a moment and breathe.  This job can drive you mad if let it take over your life, but you haveto remember to keep calm and not cry over spilled milk.  Little mishaps will happen here and there, and happen to even the best stage managers.  Your job is to be the voice of reason, and calm the chaos that ensues with every show.  If you lose control, the rest of the show does too.This job has forced me to step up my game and take control of situations with confidence. I have learned so much over the past few weeks about myself and my craft.

Now I’m preparing to say goodbye to some great friends and performers.  Such strong connections that I never thought I would make in six weeks.  They are off to other things as I remain here at MMT to work on Into the W
oods Jr. Another adventure that I feel very prepared for after this experience. My advice to the future stage management/ company management apprentice; take care of yourself as much as you take care of the company, stay organized if you ever ask yourself “should I write this down?” the answer is yes, and stay calm, the company feeds off of your energy if you keep it together, they will too.

Knowing a Little Bit of Everything



Hey friends! My name is Maddy Mojallali and I am a rising junior at James Madison University. I am the education intern here at Mill Mountain this summer. I am a musical theatre major and I am currently in the process of creating my second major, which will focus on using the arts for education and healing. I am from Long Island but am spending the summer far away from home, because right when the apprenticeship ends I am traveling to Russia to teach kids about the arts! Since this is our last week here, I have been doing a lot of reflection, and I’ve realized that the Mill Mountain Apprenticeship has confirmed my beliefs about how important it is to be a truly versatile theatre artist.

Here at Mill Mountain I have been fortunate enough to do a little bit of everything. I’ve had the privilege to perform, assistant direct, and swing in productions, as well as the opportunity to teach kids in camps, choreograph, and take a ton of dance classes and master classes. You are so much more valuable as an artist if you can do a little bit of everything! Wow. It has been such a wonderful and liberating realization that your major is not your what defines you. Yes, I am a musical theatre major, but no, that does not mean my whole career will consist of belting it out on the big stage. Theatre artists do so much more than just perform.

The staff at Mill Mountain are all theatre artists that can wear many hats; weather it be performing, directing, teaching, choreographing, etc., I have seen every member of the staff help in multiple ways in the theatre at some point in time. If you want your art to reach a good number of people, you need to take many different approaches to the art. The staff at Mill Mountain does a great job of community outreach that makes it possible for tons of kids to see their children’s shows each week. They teach camps that focus on acting, technical theatre, musical theatre, and dance. They teach master classes that cover topics of marketing, viewpoints, Shakespeare, song study, and more. All of these things had impacts on different members of the Roanoke community. Not everything you do will reach everyone, but everything you do will reach someone. It has been very inspiring this summer to see the staff of Mill Mountain reach out to educate and entertain members of the community in a number of different ways this summer. 

The apprenticeship at Mill Mountain has not failed to make all of us theatre artists who wear many hats. I am so thankful that after a long day of rehearsal, we still got to go to a master class or learn about how to network. After performing in a show, we went to The West End center to teach children. We worked on sets and we worked in the offices, we devised theatre and we studied Shakespeare. Do it all, because theatre is not just about one thing. If you are going to make art about the world, you need to know about the world. Learn as much as you can about as much as you can. Wear many hats and wear them well. I am thankful that this apprenticeship has helped me on my journey to becoming a well rounded artist.

Cheesy rant over. Go do good things.