published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Theatre Centre's youth director Maria Chattin-Carter seeks to challenge kids, herself

Maria Chattin-Carter talks to children about the mesh masks shaped as fruit bats she is making for the musical, "Stellaluna" at the Chattanooga Theatre Center.
Maria Chattin-Carter talks to children about the mesh masks shaped as fruit bats she is making for the musical, "Stellaluna" at the Chattanooga Theatre Center.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.

CHATTIN-CARTER

Age: 36.

Family: Married to David, has three children and three stepchildren.

Favorite play: "The Children's Hour," by Lillian Hellman.

Favorite shows she's done at CTC: "Pinocchio Commedia," "Yellow Boat," "The Outsiders"

Favorite movies: "Edward Scissorhands," "Young Guns"

Favorite actor: Robin Williams.

Favorite actress: Natalie Portman.

Hobbies: Reading, theater, spending time with her kids.

Unusual skills: Juggling, playing saxophone, roller-skating.

Favorite quote: "Creativity is more important than knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

Some might say Maria Chattin-Carter has come full circle. After graduating from East Ridge High School in 1994, she attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., receiving of bachelor of fine arts degree in theater. Fifteen years after returning to her hometown, Chattin-Carter is in her ninth season as the director of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre Youth Theatre, where she took the stage herself as a child.

Currently, Chattin-Carter is in the midst of producing "Stellaluna," based on the book by Janell Cannon, about a fruit bat who lives among birds. The play incorporates music, sign language, dance and puppets.

"We've never done anything like this before," she said.

"Stellaluna" is Chattin-Carter's 36th play as director of the Youth Theatre. She said she is seeking unique works that will be challenging both to herself and to the children. "That's why we're doing 'Stellaluna,' because it's a little bit different," she said. "[We want] something to keep our audience jazzed and coming to see things."

Q: How did you get involved with theater?

A: I was extremely shy as a child. My parents saw this thing on television for modeling classes when I was about 14, so they put me in modeling classes to build up my self-esteem. I was terrified. I sat in the car and cried. I didn't want to go in by myself. But I went in, and they also had acting classes. I realized, I'm only 5-foot-1; there's no way I'm ever going to be a model. I started working with the acting class, and I enjoyed it.

Q: What was your first role?

A: I remember being in a third-grade play. I had a line, "nine times five is 45," and that was all I said. That was my very first time being onstage. Then I played Rapunzel at the Theatre Centre when I was a senior in high school. That was probably the biggest thing I'd done at that point.

Q: What got you involved with children?

A: It was through the theater. When I was in college, I'd contemplated double-majoring in theater and education and decided not to do education. Looking back on it, that would have been a good thing to have, considering what I do. But when the theater director asked me to help with TIE, theater in education, we actually taught some lessons they learned in school, but we used theater to do it.

Q: What are the challenges of working with children?

A: Kids have a tendency to memorize really quick, especially the younger ones. The challenge is to keep them motivated and molding them into what you need them to be. They're learning the process as we're going through the rehearsal.

Q: What are the advantages of working with children?

A: Kids listen. They actually listen to you. I've worked with adult actors as well as kid actors, and I think it's easier to direct kids because they're used to being directed in their everyday lives. Adults don't take direction as well as children do. Kids are used to being told what to do and when to do it. They want to please you.

Q: Do the kids do behind-the-scenes work?

A: Absolutely. I'm the only adult, so I have kids who are stage managers. I have a senior in high school who is training two of the younger kids to be stage managers. They work backstage. They work the lights, the sound. They come in and help put the sets together. They help paint. They get a very round view of what theater is, so they're not just onstage, they're backstage and involved in everything, really.

Q: How do you help the kids become the characters?

A: When we do something they're not used to doing, like being an animal or a different type of character, we do a lot of movement exercises, even in auditions. When they get their bodies used to it, we can go into more of developing the characters and using their voices. A big part of the focus is how are you going to use your body?

Q: How are the children cast?

A: It's a bit of everything. We hold two days of auditions, and before we go in, I kind of have in mind what I'm looking for. I've worked with some [of the kids before], so I know what they're capable of doing, and I have that advantage. But then we have a lot of kids who are new that come in. I try very hard when I cast to make the cast even with as many new people as veterans because the veterans are going to help the new people. The new people, I look and gauge their willingness to try things and their willingness to take direction, [as well as] how they behave, because that's a big part of it; they're going to be backstage without an adult looking over their shoulders. But then, who is going to take the risk? Who's going to show me what they can do vocally, and using their bodies? [It's] the attitude and the willingness and the talent. All of that goes together.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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