Sonia Walsh (left) checks out an art installation in Times Square along with students (from left) Anna Campbell, Joelle Cheney and Taydem Shoesmith.
Sonia Walsh (left) checks out an art installation in Times Square along with students (from left) Anna Campbell, Joelle Cheney and Taydem Shoesmith.

September 4, 2018

When a group of Carroll-area acting students tumbled on the scene in New York City this summer, they discovered bright lights, theater all around — and one man direly predicting the end of the world.

The trip, organized by Sonia Walsh, owner of Serendipity Acting Studio in Carroll, brought eight high school acting students, along with Walsh and three other chaperones, to the Big Apple for five days at the beginning of August.

They packed a lot of theater into less than a week. It’s the first NYC trip Walsh has coordinated for her students, but she plans to repeat it every other year.

“It’s a billion-dollar industry, Broadway theater, and you’re seeing it at its absolute best,” she said.

The group saw three shows, “Dear Evan Hansen,” “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” and “Mean Girls.”

They took several classes and workshops: a private acting class at Ripley-Grier Studios with Carol Linnea Johnson, who has appeared in Broadway productions of “Mamma Mia!” and “The Full Monty” as well as other theater, television and film productions; a storytelling workshop at the Magnet Theatre Training Center with Jude Treder Wolff, a writer, performer, singer and songwriter; and an improv workshop with Louie Pearlman, who has been involved with Story Pirates and Upright Citizens Brigade.

They toured the set of CBS’s “Madam Secretary” at Silvercup Studios East in Queens with set designer Rich Murray.

They also visited an interactive exhibit about the five senses at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Imagine memorial for John Lennon, the Shakespeare Garden, and various sites related to Alexander Hamilton.

They sat down with Sam Wiegers, a recent University of Northern Iowa theater-performance grad who is now living and working in New York City and already finding theater gigs. Wiegers was part of the “Palette of Possibility” performance UNI students put on for kids with disabilities in Carroll in 2017. He spoke with the visiting students about trying to strike it out in acting after school. He left their meeting to perform in a Twenty One Pilots music video.

“The trip gave the students, most of whom have been studying theater for years, an opportunity to see the craft in a city that embraces it on a huge scale.

“New York City is the epicenter of theater in the world, arguably, so I wanted them to see the top shelf of live theater,” Walsh said.

The trip included meaningful moments for the students who attended, including 15-year-old Anna Campbell, a sophomore at Audubon High School and a self-described “huge musical theater geek” whose favorite Broadway show is “Carousel.” The music is the best part of theater for the all-state French horn player.

“I love the music and the fact that it’s live and you’re in the same room as the actors,” she said.

She also loves Barbra Streisand — and during a visit to Columbia University’s campus, she had the opportunity to sit on the same fountain Streisand sat while shooting “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

Campbell isn’t sure yet what she wants to do after school, but she plans to work in the fine arts in some capacity.

“(The trip) showed how many different options there were besides just acting as careers and hobbies,” she said. “We saw the set-design side of things, the technical side, how big and diverse the theater world is and how much goes into it besides the people you see onstage.”

Seeing what New York City and its 8 million-plus inhabitants have to offer is good perspective, Walsh said — even when one of them is yelling in the middle of Times Square that the world is ending.

That’s what’s fun about getting outside of your comfort zone of safe Carroll, Iowa, and seeing what else is out there,” she said. “It makes you appreciate Carroll, but it always gives you a little jolt of energy, and that’s how I feel when I get back from there — my brain is full of tons of crazy ideas. I think for some of these students, they’re thinking seriously about pursuing theater as a thing they’re doing with their life, and it crystallized for them some paths they might want to take.”