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Charleston actress to seek break in D.C.

Kenny Kemp
Leah Turley will assume the role of acting teacher when she teaches her third summer of classes for young thespians this month.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With a recent master's degree in theater in hand, Leah Turley is taking off later this summer for Washington, D.C., with the goal of becoming a working actor and the realization that she'll be a professional waitress.

But first, the Charleston resident will again teach acting at the Clay Center's Summer Discovery Camps this month as well as a couple of acting workshops for teenagers and adults.

Turley, 26, proposed the idea of adding acting to camp activities after her first semester at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. "I had learned a lot," she said. "I felt a need to bring this back."

Turley worked at the Clay Center during the year she took off between graduating from Marshall University with an acting degree and deciding where to go to graduate school.

"With schools struggling to keep arts programs, it's up to places like the Clay Center to provide what the government and schools can't do," she said.

"The arts are incredibly important," she continued. "[Acting] teaches you verbal skills, reading comprehension, self confidence, public speaking."

Those children who attend her July 23-27 acting class will write, direct and produce their own structured improvisation. "This is the first year I have handed control over to them," she said.

She explained structured improv: "There's a situation. Let's say two girls are playing in the backyard and something happens and they are no longer friends."

From there, the five W's of journalism are applied -- who, what, when, where and why -- to flesh out the story.

"Last year, we did 'The True Story of The Three Little Pigs,'" she said, noting that all 15 students had a job even though there were only eight roles. If not a character, they were in charge of props, the set or direction.

"There's a place for you in the theater, even if you do not want to be an actor."

Her acting class is for students entering the third through seventh grades. She said structured improv works well with this age group.

"I am reteaching imagination for children who have already seen everything on television, at the movies or in video games. It's hard for them to envision much larger than 'Avatar,'" she said.

Turley also will be teaching workshops for teenagers and adults.

For the teens, she'll work on eliminating self-consciousness to obtain a natural performance. In the adult workshop, for those with intermediate to advanced skills, various methods of acting will be covered, as well as sensory awareness techniques.

Turley said acting is an emotional connection with complete strangers. "As an only child, I had imaginary friends. It's a way to communicate something bigger than myself."

That's why Turley wants to pursue a career onstage: Every night there's a new audience to connect with.

For a young actress, she said, the new work being done in the Washington-area theater seems like a good opportunity. "There's a lot of theater in D.C., and it has a very educated audience. I want to be where the audience supports the theater."

As a working actress, Turley said she will work to get auditions and hope to get cast. "It's all about getting that first show," she said.

She was cast in five shows at UNCG and has performed in several productions at the Triad Stage, Greensboro's professional theater. "I got paid to do this. That was very exciting."

Turley's first appearance was at age 4 as a gosling in the Children's Theatre of Charleston's production of "Charlotte's Web." Later, Turley became involved in the Charleston Stage Company's art camps.

She attended Elkview Middle School because of its theater department -- "by that I mean Joseph Gibson and 10 kids." She said her theater experience at Capital High School prepared her to be a professional actress.

"I was a kid dying for an arts education," she said, in elaborating on the responsibility of organizations like the Clay Center to provide such outlets.

Turley's children's acting class will be offered from 1 to 4 p.m. July 23-27 at the Clay Center. The fee is $65 for members; $75 for nonmembers. Class size is limited to 25. Call the Clay Center at 304-561-3570.

The workshop for teenagers takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. July 27 and 28; $30 for members, $40 for nonmembers; registration ends July 20. The workshop for adults takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 3 and 4; $30 for members, $40 for nonmembers; registration ends July 30. The adult and teen workshops are limited to 20 students each.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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