Flat Rock Together - Studio 52's Anna Kimmell
by Bruce Holiday
In a year when sustaining theater has never been more challenging, Flat Rock Playhouse hired a new Director of Education for their Studio 52 Theatre Arts Education program. Fortunately for the Playhouse, Anna Kimmell is the type of person who knows how to confront what seems virtually impossible - theater education in the time of COVID - and make it a delightful virtual reality for the Studio’s students.
After just a few moments of talking with Anna about her new job, it becomes readily apparent that to the extent that enthusiasm, energy, and a positive outlook are predictors of success, the Playhouse has the right woman on the job.
Studio 52 offers students of all ages theatrical experiences including classes, workshops, camps, outreach and performance opportunities for youth and families, As described by their website, “Studio 52 engages the audiences of today, builds the audiences of tomorrow, and enriches the community with family-focused theatrical programming.”
Anna grew up in the Atlanta metro area and seemed destined to be an actor from a young age. Her family sent her to a public performing arts magnet elementary school in Atlanta, and from Kindergarten through 6th grade, acting, dance, and music were part of her everyday curriculum. “That time was super formative for me,” says Anna. “Those opportunities don’t exist very often anymore, so I feel very lucky.”
In high school, Anna performed in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” and the experience helped galvanize her interest in musical theater. She went on to attend Elon College where she earned a BFA in Musical Theatre. It was during this time in college that Anna made her first official connection with the Playhouse.
She applied for a summer apprenticeship in Flat Rock and was invited to spend her summer immersed in the world of theatre. That summer was a formative experience in the life of a burgeoning young actor. “Like all the apprentices, I bounced around from department to department. I was also in three main stage shows. It's a really great bird's eye view of what professional theater is and gave me just such an appreciation for the craft of theater.”
As it turns out, her summer in Flat Rock was the stepping stone Anna needed to pursue her dream of being a professional actor. “That was truly a life-changing summer. It was my first-ever opportunity to work at a professional theater and it catapulted me into my career. I'm forever grateful for that experience.”
Following college, Anna spent several years performing in regional theaters in a broad range of productions. “I love tap dance so I loved playing Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street.” I really loved playing Judy in “White Christmas.” And being on a national tour of The Wizard of Oz. That was a cool experience with a lot of amazing people.”
Eventually, Anna found her career transitioning organically from less performance to more teaching. “I come from a family of educators, so I always knew that it going to be part of my story. I feel most at home in the classroom.” STUDIO 52 ZOOM CLASS Anna was invited to Mill Mountain Theater in Roanoke, VA as a teacher in 2013 and ended up being offered the position of Director of Education. From there she moved on to build a theatre training program at Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock. When Flat Rock Playhouse had an opening last year, Anna was at the top of their list of candidates to be the new Director of Education.
As an educator, Anna believes that creating an accepting environment is critically important. “We are not asking students to be anything other than themselves. We're there to celebrate who you are and encourage you to be more of that. Creating that “safe space” for the students is really, really important.”
Anna is definitely looking forward to a time when in-person instruction will be possible. However, she sees some unanticipated positives to teaching virtually. “We are actually able to work with kids all across the country. I imagine that virtual instruction will continue to be an element in some way moving forward.” In the fall, FRP offered classes to K through 12 students. Starting next month, they will also be offering classes to adults as well. “We will have 10 classes for children and adults,” says Anna. “Registration is still open and there are scholarship funds available. We recognize that the past year has been an uncertain time for families, and we want to make sure that opportunities are available no matter your resources.”
For now, Anna is thrilled to be back and working at Flat Rock Playhouse - even under these unusual circumstances. She also believes that the availability of arts education is a lifeline for many of her students. “A lot of these kids live for theater. This is what they do. This is their sports. This is their family. This is their community. So to be able to continue is very meaningful.”
Going forward, Anna Kimmell’s vivacious personality and seemingly boundless enthusiasm will undoubtedly continue to be one of the bright spots in a difficult year for Flat Rock Playhouse. And Anna invites everyone along for the journey. “Let's not let a global pandemic stop us from doing the things we love,” she says with a smile you can hear over the phone. “If you haven't participated in theater, Studio 52 is actually a really great way to take the first step because you're joining from the safety of your own home.” To learn more about how you can “Come Play from Away!” at Studio 52, visit frpstudio52.org or contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org.