McALLEN — The All Star Kids Club recently had a very special guest visit the All Star Theater here, where experiences on the Broadway stage were shared with aspiring stage performers from the Rio Grande Valley.
Thayne Jasperson, one of the original cast members of the Broadway show, “Hamilton,” spent a week with the club to give advice on how professionals work on the big stage.
“Every year we try to bring in different performers to kind of bring in their experiences and expertise to the Valley to be able to teach our students,” Joel Garza, executive artistic director of the club, said. “It’s not just a program for the All Star Kids — for students in the All Star Kids Club, it’s a program for students in the Valley and the state of Texas. Anybody is welcome to come join the program for the week that we have these instructors here.”
Garza said that this is the fourth year that the club has brought in instructors from New York City. He explained Jasperson’s visit as somewhat of a full-circle moment. He explained that the idea to begin inviting Broadway stars to the Valley began as he watched Jasperson perform his role in Hamilton in 2015.
“(Thayne) was right in front of me,” Garza recalled. “There was this energy— this feeling like this guy seems approachable. Like I possibly could speak to him. I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we created an opportunity for performers — just like this guy acting right in front of me right now — to possibly come to McAllen and do a class for our students.”
A few months later, Garza took a chance and messaged another performer about coming to the Valley to teach his theater class.
Since then, the theater has hosted Clay Thomson from “Matilda,” Chris Rice from “The Book of Mormon,” Gianna Yanelli from “Mean Girls,” and Weslaco’s own Eddie Cavazos.
“Joel contacted me to come down and teach camp for the kids and to work with people of all ages to do dancing, acting — to just bring them some Broadway and help them develop ways that they can achieve their dreams and goals of being aspiring performers,” Jasperson said.
Jasperson, known for portraying Samuel Seabury in “Hamilton,” said that he has been busy preparing for his return to the Broadway stage as shows begin reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic.
He will be returning to the “Hamilton” production — the only original actor to do so, but he said that he was inspired by Garza’s program and decided to make the long journey from New York City to McAllen.
“I loved the program that he was putting together with the All Stars, and how they were doing so much work,” Jasperson said. “I’ve been enjoying doing a lot of work with aspiring performers now, especially during the pandemic. It’s been fun to get to work with them and help give them some kind of hope and growth and give them all the information. Whatever I can give them to help them get there, I want to give.”
Siblings Owen and Sophie Enslein were among the first to arrive at the theater Friday for Jasperson’s last class before he caught a flight back to the Big Apple.
Owen, 14, has been a member of the All Star Theater for nearly seven years. He described the experience as incredible and eye-opening.
“Just being able to see and learn from a professional has really just brought a new perspective,” Owen said. “He’s so enthusiastic and energetic and thoughtful. That enthusiasm really seeps into us when we’re learning. It makes us want to do better and learn more, and just push the limits. It’s just been an overall incredible experience.”
Sophie, 15, said that the week of training with Jasperson was very challenging.
“It’s probably the hardest choreography I’ve ever had to do so far, but I think that’s really great for me — challenging myself and pushing myself,” Sophie said. “The quality of performance — seeing (Jasperson) dance and stuff on Broadway — encourages me to do better and work harder.”
“Working with Thayne has been able to activate something within our participants,” Garza said. “We have seen students walk in extremely shy and quiet on Monday, but play a character full out by Thursday. That has been the most exciting part of this program, watching the transformation happen.”