- Lauren McNeese
Ms. Austin on Her Relationship with Theater
Ellie Austin, Chattanooga Christian School Alum - exceptional education paraprofessional, and middle school theatre teacher - shares what drew her to theatre, her hopes for the upcoming musical, and what it was like to watch her high school boyfriend kiss her best friend on stage.
“I actually never watched them kiss, I would always look away. That was really mature of me,” she laughs. “But now I look back and I’m like, oh that was so silly, to panic over that, because we were in high school, and everything is silly then.”
New to CCS in ninth grade, Austin was not initially looking for ways to get involved. She planned to cheer all throughout high school, but upon two injuries had to relinquish these plans. “I was a little lost, identity wise,” she confesses, “because I had always thought that cheer was what I was going to do all through school.” After taking some time, Austin’s mother told her that she must get involved in something, and it just so happened that sign ups for stage crew for the musical had just been released. “I quickly learned that theatre was going to be my place,” Austin reminisces.
“I was a little lost, identity wise,” she confesses, “because I had always thought that cheer was what I was going to do all through school.” After taking some time, Austin’s mother told her that she must get involved in something, and it just so happened that sign ups for stage crew for the musical had just been released.
Though she found her place in stage crew early on, she had never anticipated acting. When auditions for Music Man came out her sophomore year for the 2012 show, though, she decided she would take a chance. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to do it, and I’m not going to die,’ and I pretty much planned on not making it. And then I made it.” Austin was cast as Zaneeta Shinn, a significant role in the production as the mayor’s daughter. After this unexpected turn of events, she fell in love with acting.
Austin says that she loves performing because “You get to be someone else and it’s kind of like an escape, and there’s also this adrenaline rush.” However, the process is also important to her, because of the opportunity to work with other people and grow together.
While theater is entertaining and fun, it also serves a greater purpose within the community. Austin believes that theater is a reflection of the world around us, and is a way for us to say that this is who we are as humans, or maybe this is an issue in our society. West Side Story, last year’s spring production, communicated such a message in its portrayal of human nature and the way that sin is reflected in our society.
West Side Story, last year’s spring production, communicated such a message in its portrayal of human nature and the way that sin is reflected in our society.
Austin says that musical theater sometimes is straight-up entertainment; we as humans need an artistic escape at times. Austin also greatly believes in the power of song; “You take a story, take a play, and then you also tell that story through dance and add higher art forms to it and it becomes something that is untouchable.” Austin elaborates on her opinion, saying that this “kind of heart string pulling” cannot be attained through any other art form.
“It speaks for itself, and I think that you just can’t tell that story without music. If you really just listen to the orchestration of some musical theater numbers, you think that this totally would not have the same effect if it weren’t for those violins, if it weren’t for that drum part. All the little things that come together to tell you how to feel and how to think through the story.”
Auditions for the upcoming production, Newsies, will take place November 18-21. Austin will be a part of the audition panel, and she shared what the audition process looks like. “Scenes are cut for you based on the character that you would like to audition for, and it does not have to be memorized. Everyone is in a group together in the theater room, and you sing your song and do a scene and someone will read the scene with you.”
It is important to understand the commitment involved if you make it, as the rehearsal process is work every single day. There are intensive dance warmups, several weeks of learning, mastering lines, memorizing song lyrics and harmonies, practicing dance steps, and watching videos. From January-February, run-throughs take place, where the crew starts at the top of the show and works through the finer minutia of the show.
Austin encourages all students to consider either auditioning or finding another way to be involved in the theatre scene. Austin elaborates that there are places for visual artists: people who paint, draw, or sculpt. There have never been too many people on a crew: “I think that people don’t realize how much of a need there is-- we need so many hands, and so many brains, and so many hearts, too. So if there’s ever anybody that is thinking that they would love to get involved, but think, I’m not a theater person, I promise you, you are. It’s somewhere in there. It may not be on stage, but it is somewhere.”