More than musicals

Upstage Theater Co. will offer classes and community

Performing arts and theater opportunities continue to expand in Sweetwater County, with the latest brand-new theater company, Upstage Theater Co., recently making its debut.

Founded by Erika Hunsaker, Upstage is a new company that will offer a wide variety of options for a wide variety of people. 

"I want people to feel showcased," Hunsaker said.

Musicals and more

The idea for Upstage has been in Hunsaker's mind for a while. She started talking about a new company with friends and like-minded individuals about a year ago, and knew there were specific things she wanted to accomplish.

The company will primarily focus on musical productions, starting with producing two big musicals a year, with hopes to expand and do even more in the future. Hunsaker has already started planning for the first big show coming this fall.

But musicals aren't the only thing Upstage will offer. Hunsaker has plans for turning theater into not only an opportunity for performers but a way to offer services for the community.

One of the ways she will do this is through "Once Upon a Birthdays." This program will teach actors to impersonate famous princesses, and those princesses will then be available to be part of birthday parties. This will be a paid opportunity for actors but a free service for community members.

The other main thing Hunsaker wants to offer through Upstage that will set it apart from other theater companies is classes, training and mentoring. She plans on offering classes for both youth and adults, and teaching a variety of skills like acting, singing and dancing.

Hunsaker believes training is an important part of theater since many people may want to be involved but they don't know where to start.

"There are tools to everything," she explained. "You need the skills, you need the tools, you need the background, you need the credentials or the training hours."

Whether it's learning basic theater skills like reading scripts and following stage directions or knowing how to sing or learn choreography, Hunsaker wants people to be able to have a foundation to start with and to build on the skills they already have.

"In order to be the best performer you dream to be or maybe you are, there's work behind it," she said.

With a background in music and experience in theater, Hunsaker doesn't consider herself a professional but does believe she has a lot to teach and share.

One of the reasons she wanted to start Upstage was to have a theater company that focuses on "dissecting the performing arts and filling the toolbox for people to be more confident on stage."

The goal is to keep all of Upstage's opportunities free for the community, from "Once Upon a Birthday" appearances to classes and training. To start off, Hunsaker and her husband are funding many things themselves, and she hopes to be able to rely on donations in the future. She also noted that the company will accept not just monetary donations, but donations of lumber, costumes, recycled items, and even just things people want to get rid of that can be repurposed. 

"I just really hope that the community supports it," Hunsaker said.

Sold-out start

Even for Upstage Theater Co.'s debut, the community has already been showing up to give their support.

The first production was a burlesque showcase which also served as a fundraiser to help the company get started. The show was hosted Feb. 11 and ended up selling out almost a month in advance.

Hunsaker wanted to combine multiple elements for Upstage's first event. She wanted to give people a chance to dress up and go for a fun night out, as well as to showcase her own love for mainstream pop culture and different music styles, which will be influential in her company.

She also decided to do a burlesque performance to give performers a chance to learn a unique style of dance choreography that she described as sexy but also tasteful and classy.

"Our first show was amazing, and exceeded my expectations," Hunsaker said. "With it being my first production from my new business, it was an amazing learning experience. It didn't seem real that an entire team trusted my direction and visions. They brought this to life for me. It seems unreal that we have such an amazing community. But our show was amazing and we cannot wait to do it again and hopefully add new cast members!"

Between ticket sales, raffle sales, and tips, the burlesque show was able to raise over $2,500. Hunsaker said this money will go directly into the company to help pay for "props, costumes, set designs and supplies, producing rights, advertising and anything else we need for future productions."

Following the success of the first show, Hunsaker plans to do more burlesque performances in the future, and is already in talks to take the show to other parts of Wyoming.

Expanding opportunities

As she decided to start her own company, Hunsaker took into consideration the theatrical opportunities that do and don't exist in our community.

Having spent 13 years in Sweetwater County, Hunsaker noticed that for the most part no one outside of the local high schools and community college has tried to put on big musicals, and people tend to travel to Salt Lake City or Denver to go to shows.

"I want to showcase to them that we can do that right here," Hunsaker said.

While seeing limitations, Hunsaker also acknowledged the variety of theater opportunities that do exist locally, especially with other new companies having started within the past year, including The Horizon Theater and The Starling Co. She also acknowledged the long-time community theater group The Actors' Mission, which helped play a part in her own theater journey after she directed "Beer for Breakfast" and realized she "loved being on the other side instead of just being on stage."

But Hunsaker sees having multiple different theater groups as a positive thing, especially when they all are creating their own styles and niches.

"There's something that serves every background," she said. "I feel like the more options the better."

Hunsaker also believes an increase in theater companies comes from people wanting to express themselves, especially when the theater world can sometimes put limits on people.

"I'm tired of being told no," Hunsaker explained. "They have caps on creativity limits. . . So when you're putting a cap on that, that makes people push back. We want more because we all have stories to tell."

A community for everyone

When it comes to establishing Upstage Theater Co.'s focus, Hunsaker is dedicated to creating a space where everyone is welcome and celebrated.

Providing opportunities for youth is especially close to Hunsaker's heart, and will be a main part of Upstage.

As a mom herself, Hunsaker knows the importance of having things for kids to do in small communities. And as someone who has worked as a mentor at the local youth home for over a decade, she understands the power of the arts and music for helping at-risk kids. She also knows this from personal experience.

"Theater saved my life," she said. 

Being involved in theater and the arts helped her deal with her own past and mental health

"There are so many mental health benefits and stimulations," she explained.

Theater also provided Hunsaker with a sense of connection and a support system, which she said is crucial for youth, especially those who are at-risk. She also pointed out that it doesn't have to be theater specifically, but having clubs and social structures for kids is extremely important, and theater is one way to help provide that. Clubs provide a chance for youth to make friends and experience a sense of community and safety.

"It is so imperative to feel that community," she said.

She wants her classes to serve as a form of club, as well as functioning as healing groups and support groups that not only teach theater skills but provide art therapy resources.

Hunsaker also stressed the fact that she wants Upstage to provide a place where everyone is welcome. 

"We'll cater to all backgrounds, so it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, how much you weigh, what color you are, what your preferences are, what your pronouns are, there's a place for everyone of all ages," she said.


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