Walt Willey has been teaching acting for three decades and soon will be doing so in his hometown.
WilleyWorld Community Productions — in conjunction with Starved Rock Country — is creating Starved Rock Country Children’s Learning Theatre, with classes beginning next month at Ottawa Dance Academy, 813 La Salle St.
"This is one of the parts of our long-term mission," said the Ottawa native and "All My Children" actor. "I've located here for much of the year, and I'll be able to do it."
The first session will begin Saturday, Oct. 11, with the first class from 10 a.m. to noon. After this initial orientation, classes/rehearsals will meet from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 15 to Dec. 11. Saturdays will be added beginning Nov. 22. A production for the public will be staged Saturday, Dec. 13.
“One of my passions is teaching acting, which I’ve done — on and off — since the mid-1980s,” said Willey, who serves as Starved Rock Country’s community arts adviser. “Another passion of mine, as many know, is bringing the theater arts to area high school students. Our mission at the Starved Rock Country Children’s Learning Theatre is to expand this opportunity to even younger children.”
Classes will be offered to children from grades one through eight. The template will be based on Pandemonium, a children's arts program that enrolled Chance Willey, Walt's son, in Santa Fe, N.M.
"It's a very successful program," Willey said of Pandemonium. "I saw firsthand how a program like this helped young people. I watched as these kids developed skills, confidence, appreciation for the arts and process and friendships with other like-minded young people that lasted for years.”
WilleyWorld has staged plays the past six years before Riverfest, and Willey personally will instruct students at the Children's Learning Theatre.
“I’m taking a very hands-on approach to this,” he said. “As we grow, we’ll employ accomplished instructors, directors, technicians and scenic designers, which will contribute to the excellence of our instruction and productions and the success of this program.”
Willey's assistants will include Leighton Williams, an Ottawa Township High School graduate and Illinois Valley Community College freshman; and Karly Swords, an OTHS junior. Both acted in WilleyWorld's comedy "Auntie Mame," staged this summer in the OTHS auditorium.
"They're terrific young actors. Karly was active in Community House of Arts in Ottawa, which is a lot like Pandemonium," Willey said.
Under the Pandemonium model, children will begin acting right away, Willey explained.
"It will be acting lessons with immediate application," he said. "It's one thing to be taught without having the chance to immediately work on it."
Willey admitted his long-term dream is to establish a space for all performing arts, but Ottawa Dance Academy and Children's Learning Theatre will work without conflict.
"They have a rehearsal room we can use, and it's centrally located in downtown Ottawa.
Enrollment spots in Children's Learning Theatre will be limited, at $240 per individual. For information and registration, contact the Ottawa Dance Academy at 815-434-5308, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We're ready to roll on this," Willey said.