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Former Peoria Unified students come together in Childsplay production

Posted 5/16/22

It almost seemed like fate that Alyssa Armstrong and Joshua Vern would share stages together.

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things to do

Former Peoria Unified students come together in Childsplay production

Posted

It almost seemed like fate that Alyssa Armstrong and Joshua Vern would share stages together.

Call it coincidence, stars moving into alignment, or sheer luck, but their paths moved along a parallel track for years, crossing, briefly, only once, on stage – in 2014 – until now.

Both Armstrong and Vern grew up in Peoria. For each of them, the initial calling to the magic of theater happened at eight years of age, both attended Centennial High School (Vern from 2006-2010 and Armstrong from 2015-2019) and, today, they are realizing their dreams of professional acting careers.

While Armstrong’s direction was shaped after seeing Bye Bye Birdie at Spotlight Youth Theater and Vern was “doomed from then on” after watching a VHS recording of the 1982 Stratford Festival Production of The Mikado, the convergence was complete when both were chosen for the national tour of Childsplay’s production of Schoolhouse Rock Live!.

Schoolhouse Rock Live! is now on Stage West at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix through May 22. Ticket prices start at $13 and are on sale at childsplayaz.org/SHRL22.

For Armstrong, 20, the Bye Bye Birdie experience rocketed her curiosity to a life-changing level.

“I went with my cousin and we sat in the back row,” she recalled. “I kept looking behind us because I couldn’t figure out if the actors were reading lines off the wall. I was so confused and I wanted to know how and why they did everything. That night, I went home and began constantly begging my mother to allow me to audition. I think she was hoping I’d forget. I never did.”

What followed was a series of roles at Spotlight and Arizona Broadway Theater, in addition to participating in volleyball, soccer, gymnastics and swimming. “But,” she said, “nothing was as great as theater.”

Vern, 29, “debuted” in a seventh-grade production of Tom Sawyer, which eventually led to high school plays and to Theater Works in Peoria where skills were honed over several years beginning with the 2008 staging of The Wizard of Oz.

“I always fancied myself to be a storyteller and an entertainer,” Vern said. “I come from a very musical family. I’ve got uncles and aunts on both sides who are songwriters and composers. Just about everyone on my mom’s side plays an instrument, is a dancer or an actor. It’s something I was always around when I was growing up. It was just thing you do.”

Something else connects the two young actors: sharing their love of theater with the children attending Schoolhouse Rock Live!.

Schoolhouse Rock Live! revolves around Tom on his first day teaching. To calm his nerves, he turns on the TV and winds up surrounded by three characters out of nowhere. They are all part of him, facets of his personality, and through imagination and song, they help him gain confidence and teach several subjects including grammar, math, civics, social studies and science. The play features iconic songs like “Just A Bill,” “Conjunction Junction,” “Three Is the Magic Number” and “Preamble,” academic subjects that will never be the same again.

“The theatrical experience with Schoolhouse Rock Live! has been exhilarating,” Vern said. “As far as a life experience, making kids laugh and smile and putting on a good show is such a great feeling. It’s given me a new sense of purpose.”

Being on stage in front of children brings back Armstrong’s earliest memories.

“It’s kind of like going full circle,” she said. “At the end of each show we have a Q&A and we get questions like ‘how did you get on stage?’ and ‘how did you start as an actor?’,” she explained. “I think I do this because I want those kids to be me, to see what I was and go after it because it is such a beautiful thing. I want everyone to be able to feel what I feel. It’s the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced and I want to keep giving that experience to young people.”

For more information about Childsplay, visit www.childsplayaz.org.

Editor's note: This article was submited by the Kur Carr Group, Inc.

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