Director plans theater workshops on lessons happily lived

  • Julie Capone-Bouchard observes her cast in action at a recent rehearsal in the Mahar Regional School auditorium. ANN REED

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 4/15/2019 11:16:11 PM

ORANGE — This writer couldn’t help but get a little lost in snippets of Julie Capone-Bouchard’s life story, while gathering facts on her planned summer workshops on how to succeed in theater. And if you consider enrolling your kids, or yourself, perhaps Capone-Bouchard’s background would be an ideal place for you to “get a little lost,” too.

In a brand new project, the longtime theater educator and noted musical theater performer with more than 55 stage credits, is slated to direct intensive four-day workshops at Mahar Regional School. The skills-and-confidence-building courses are open to residents of surrounding towns as well as locally: An intro for ages 9-13 and a workshop for ages 14 to adult.

In a recent interview, Capone-Bouchard, 45, expressed personal zeal for theater life and a relentless drive to open the stage door to that joy for others. “It’s like my happy place,” she says of the live stage, onto which she first stepped at age 4, flanked by her talented parents, for one of yesteryear’s Athol Minstrel Shows.

Capone-Bouchard works by day as a special needs paraprofessional in the Athol-Royalston Regional School District and, for roughly 15 years, has moonlighted as theater director at Mahar. Capone stepped into that directorship when a dozen students were involved. Now, she notes, her program bustles with 80 players.

Capone-Bouchard says she is deeply gratified to be approached by former students, or parents, over the years to be told “Theater changed my life” or “Theater changed my child’s life.”

“No one is ever left out,” she says of her productions, which have included talent with special needs. And she endeavors, at least a few times a year, to take a group of kids to area auditions. “It’s such an outlet.” Kids need choices other than just “competitive” athletics.

Capone-Bouchard’s own resume overflowed off the page a long time ago. In lifelong possession of classic performer’s panache, great pipes, comic timing and hoofer’s knowhow, she says her motivation has never been a chase for recognition and fortune. In fact, her greatest dream has been to ultimately open a theater arts school locally.

“Performing in community theatrer is so uplifting,” Capone-Bouchard says of the personal path she has favored. That is, despite having often been told that she belonged in the Big Apple — where, make no mistake, Capone-Bouchard has enjoyed some prestigious stints, and in Paris as well. “You don’t [have to] leave your family.”

A deeper story

The dreary economy of 1970s America did not spare Athol — and certainly not the Capone family — the setting into which Capone-Bouchard was born, the youngest of five children.

“We were poor,” says Capone-Bouchard. Her mother, Jeanette, worked three waitressing jobs, and her father, James, while a supportive and positive force, contended with debilitating illness for years.

But the Athol Minstrel Shows cast a warm bright light for the talented family and — to hear people reminisce to this day — the community in general.

“I remember my mom saying ‘you got a standing ovation’” to the stunned 6-year-old Capone-Bouchard, who in her local breakout had just belted out a spot-on “New York, New York,” recently made a hit by Liza Minnelli.

That kid is going places and therefore needs a vocal coach, her parents were told at every turn. The couple, although unsure of how they could possibly pay for lessons, took their child, then 7, to local voice teacher Raymond Lefrancois.

“I was kind of intimidated,” Capone-Bouchard recalls, when told to demonstrate her singing voice for the expert. But little Julie complied.

“She doesn’t need voice lessons,” Lefrancois declared.

Within a year or so, Capone-Bouchard was gracing regional theater stages spanning multiple counties — capturing parts like the lead in “Annie.”

“I remember my mother rolling nickels for gas money to get me to auditions,” she said.

It seemed Capone-Bouchard was an all-round show biz natural — except when it came to taking final bows. But “they already clapped for me” the kid from Athol would argue while being nudged back onstage for curtain calls.

Thanks to a winning demo tape and a connection her accompanist Bernard Crane had to club owners, Capone-Bouchard, at age 19, made it to the star-trodden stage of Paris’s famed Piano Zinc. Also that year, she toured New York stages for nine months as a performer with the Children’s Educational Workshop. What’s even more, she had also been accepted to New York’s prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

And her father died.

Capone couldn’t possibly afford to attend the prestigious dramatic academy that year, after all. In any case, she had been accepted on the merits of her audition alone, not academic grades, which she describes as average.

That irretrievable educational opportunity has haunted her mother more than it ever did her, says Capone-Bouchard, who staunchly maintains that her parents provided plenty of what was important and that she has no complaints.

“I was never angry or bitter about not going to college or [remaining in] New York,” says Capone-Bouchard, today a mother of two and grandmother of two. “I’ve sung in Paris … toured New York …

“Right now, I think the most important thing for me is to give back to the kids in the community.” Clearly, the woman is still living lavishly off the riches her father left her — in the form of these words: “Make sure you share your talent with other people.”

A final word about Jeanette

This writer would be remiss to not make closing mention of that mother who, back in the ‘70s, had rolled magical nickels that evidently proved more valuable to her talented child than a fancy Manhattan tuition. … that and her backstage motherly advice to always “Just be yourself.”

At the recent first-ever Lions Club benefit variety show held at Athol High School, the director, Dee Wheeler, in an introductory monologue, suddenly broke from formality when she realized she needed a memory refresher in reference to those beloved old minstrel shows. She shaded her eyes from the spotlight and leaned into the audience with an unceremonious “Where’s Jeanette Capone?”

Local patrons had just paid ten dollars apiece for their posh red theater seats. Would they be ruffled by the down-home break from the program?

On the contrary, a stir of umpteen audience members answered “She’s over here.” “She’s here.” “She’s back here.”

“I’m here,” Jeanette Capone, now elder stateswoman of area musical theater, ultimately answered in that unmistakable tone of comedic vexation that booms over the rest. On this night, instead of gracing the playbill in trouper’s greasepaint for the cause, she graced the house, wearing the tasteful evening-out glimmer and attire of a lady patron of the performing arts.

You simply cannot beat small-town life. One can understand why the famous local daughter has stayed.

Courses

Here are the skills-and-confidence-building courses open to residents of surrounding towns as well as locally:

INTRO TO THEATER/ “A STAR IS BORN” WORKSHOP, for ages 9-13, Monday-Thursday, July 8-11, 9 a.m. to noon. $125. Open to kids who are new to the stage. Lessons: basic tools and techniques to instill self-confidence and knowledge as well as physical skills: posture, body language, expression of mood, agility, fluidity, facial expression, listening to response, theatre etiquette, gesture/gait, stage direction and use of the stage.

“WINNER TAKES IT ALL” WORKSHOP, for ages 14 to adult, Monday-Thursday, July 22-25, 6-8 p.m. $75. Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and audition? Lessons: how to audition through cold readings, monologue prep and tools to help you successfully land your next role. Focusing on the audition process: character acting, vocal selections, using yourself as a “tool” for auditioning, basic movement and how to use your space.

The deadline to register is June 26; and forms can be obtained on-line at www.rcmahar.org. where, Under Events & Notices, one can click onto the Summer Theatre Workshop “Registration Form” tab.

 




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