New theatre studio training, encouraging young actors

BROOKINGS – Spotlight Theatre Studio is a new and growing troupe of inspired young actors training and performing in the theater located within the center of the 1921 Building.

Spotlight Theatre Studio is designed to cultivate middle school and elementary school-aged children in theater performance using acting, singing, dancing, costume designing, make-up classes and public speaking capabilities. 

It’s run by three women who offer private lessons in addition to group theater classes.

Julie Bergan Abraham, Laura Hummel and Ellie Livingston are the instructors of Spotlight. Abraham is the owner of the studio, but all three women are instructors and directors of the shows. Abraham started the program less than a year ago accompanied by Hummel and Livingston as instructors.

“Brookings is an artsy community. Our high school is well known for its art programs in addition to its athletics, and we have a great high school theater (program), but we don’t really have a lot of theater offerings for kids in middle school and in elementary schools,” Abraham said.

Livingston and Abraham said they believe there is a need and desire for the Brookings community to have a much larger theater atmosphere than what is currently available. The three are providing an outlet for Brookings youth who are interested in the performing arts.

“We know that kids in elementary and middle school benefit so greatly from having opportunities to perform. To build skills in communication and teamwork and just building that self-confidence to get up in front of people and memorize and work together is so important for young people,” Abraham said.

All three women have long histories and professional backgrounds in theater production and performance.

Hummel has spent almost three decades teaching music and theater as well as judging for many oral interpretation contests and one-act play competitions.

Abraham began her interest in the theater when she was a freshman in college at Augustana, where she got her undergraduate degrees in theater, education and English. She taught various theater classes at multiple schools all over the country but came to Brookings when she and her husband started their family over 20 years ago.

Abraham got her master’s degree in English composition and taught at South Dakota State University for 15 years. She was on the executive board of Brookings Community Theatre and taught drama classes at First Lutheran Church for 10 years. Despite her professorship, she had always wanted to be more involved in theater production and was always looking to do more.

Yankton native and USD alumni Livingston was a professional traveling actress for 14 years. After earning her degree in acting with a musical and children’s theater production emphasis, Livingston traveled all over the country performing and directing shows. Her theater inspiration started when she directed her first show when she was in eighth grade.

She came to Brookings about six years ago, after her daughter was born. Like Abraham, Livingston was also looking to get back into theater production and directing something for the Brookings’ youth.

Abraham and Hummel worked together at Mickelson Middle School for three years. Once they left the school system, they deliberated on what they should do next because they both wanted to do something theater related. Abraham knew that Livingston previously had run a successful performing arts studio (Ellie Elaine Arts) and reached out to her to see if they could collaborate.

Abraham met with Livingston, and “it was meeting a kindred spirit,” said Abraham.

Abraham and Livingston saw that any theater opportunities for kids would have to be done privately, rather than through the school system. So Abraham began Spotlight Theater Studio to offer that opportunity.

Livingston said that she wants to see the theater in the 1921 Building and Spotlight continue to grow and to offer more shows for more age groups both to perform in and attend. 

“We have big goals that we want to reach,” Livingston said.

Missoula Children’s Theatre

Spotlight Theater Studio will work with the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) next week, starting Aug. 12.

The Montana-based organization is a theater group that travels nationwide, working with other theater-based groups to put on various productions. In a week’s time, the group teaches the participating kids how to act, sing, make costumes and sets, recite lines and even do some writing for the plays themselves. 

The MCT has been a professional production company since the ’90s. The company has toured all 50 states, has worked with hundreds of thousands of participants and has performed for well over 1 million people nationwide. They have even gone international and performed “Princess and the Pea” in Beijing, China.

Both Abraham and Livingston have worked with the MCT. Abraham worked with them when she lived and taught in Missoula, and Livingston traveled with and studied under them.

MCT will work with Spotlight students to put on a production of “Peter and Wendy.” Auditions are set for 10 a.m.-noon Aug. 12; visit to register.

The Missoula Children’s Theatre will also offer three free workshops during their time in Brookings for anyone who is interested in the community.

“Spotlight Theatre Studio is bringing Missoula Children’s Theater here, and we’re working on getting community financial support so that we can pay the tour actors and directors; but the kids (who participate) don’t have to pay,” Abraham said. “The MCT will be working with the students and performing at the United Methodist Church.”

The Studio was recently awarded a $1,000 check from the Fishback Financial Corporation to help alleviate the costs for MCT coming into Brookings.

“All of the children in the Brookings area are invited to audition for the production. We hope that many of the Studio’s students will be cast, but anyone can try out for the show,” Abraham said.

Both Abraham and Livingston want Spotlight to be a haven for kids, not just as a place to feel welcome and safe but to also grow into who they truly want to be. It’s hard work, they said, but performing, in the end, is pure liberation.

For more information, visit or visit the studio’s Facebook page.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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