If you’d asked Sean Sova years ago if he ever thought he’d be directing a theatrical production as a high school senior, he would tell you, unequivocally, absolutely not.
However, this weekend makes Sova’s second directing debut for the Rhode Island Youth Theater program as he directs Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach Jr.” at the Park Theater in his hometown of Cranston. This past February, he directed the program’s production of “Peter Pan Jr.” over the school vacation week.
“I was shy as a kid, so I never did theater when I was young, but my cousin was in the RIYT and I always loved seeing his shows,” Sova said. “My older sister did some theater and I would watch her performances too.”
It wasn’t until Sova was in middle school at Hugh B. Bain Middle School, that he decided to take a risk and participate in Maribeth Orabone’s after school theater club as an actor.
“I played Eeyore in the Bain production of ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ in 2013,” he said.
At the time he was in the seventh grade.
“After that, I participated in the summer theater program at Bain and in 2014 I was in ‘Alice in Wonderland Jr.’ as part of the ensemble cast," Sova said. "It was fun to be part of that program and to do actual musicals rather than the plays I had done at school.”
From there, Sova was all in, participating in theater productions every chance he could.
“I went back to school and participated in the Bain productions when I was in the eighth grade and I was in a show over the February and April vacations and during the summer for RIYT,” he said.
As a high school freshman, Sova tried out for the Cranston High School West award-winning theater program, and was in ‘Pippin’ and ‘Radium Girls’ as a freshman, ‘Salute to Broadway’ and ‘Nora’s Lost’ as a sophomore and ‘Hairspray’ as a junior.
In the meantime, his performances for RIYT included ‘Pinnochio Jr.’ and ‘Shrek Jr.’ and Sova began to expand even further, performing for Stadium Theater in Woonsocket as well.
“I was in ‘High School Musical’ this past spring and I was in ‘Bring it On’ over this summer,” Sova said. “Right now I’m in ‘Footloose.’”
It means Sova has been working and participating in theater during his days, nights and weekends all summer long.
“It’s been a little bit busy,” he said.
However, his chance to direct came during his high school career, when RIYT’s Ann O’Grady asked Sova if he was interested in directing a future show. Although it was a completely unexpected proposal, Sova jumped at the chance.
“As I got older, I was too old to be in the shows, but I still wanted to participate, and I’d asked Ann about volunteering, and instead she asked if I would direct,” he said. “To take that on, you intern for two shows prior to your own show, with the current directors. You go to all the rehearsals for those shows and you work tech for those shows. I did that for ‘Annie Jr.’ in 2016 and for ‘Music Man Jr.’ in 2016.”
Now Sova is about to direct his second show for the company.
“I am co-directing this show with a girl who is doing most of the dance scenes, and I am focused mostly on the songs in the show,” he said.
Sova said that being a show’s director is no easy task and involves a lot of preparation ahead of time in order to be ready to help lead the cast.
“I received the script and I read it over and over again, probably ten times,” he said. “Then I watched the original movie, I watched songs on YouTube to get a general idea of how the show goes.”
Now, Sova has had input on key decisions such as how the various scenes will look, and has helped to guide his cast in practicing for the show.
“One of the hardest things is that the show is done all with British accents,” he said. “That’s always interesting, teaching them to talk in a different accent.”
If Sova had his choice, he still prefers acting over directing, although he is enjoying his role.
“It’s still a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s awesome to get as much experience as possible.”
In the fall, he’ll be returning to the Cranston West theater program as he starts his senior year and continues his college search and decision-making process.
“I’m not sure if I’ll major in musical theater or not, but I might minor in it,” he said. “I definitely want to still be involved in community theater. I also have been thinking about the idea of going into teaching and being involved in school theater programs in that way and still do community theater on the side.”
No matter what lies ahead, Sova is thankful that he took a risk in middle school and made the leap into the Bain theater program.
“I was so afraid then, and I still get so afraid now when it comes to auditioning, but it’s so much fun," he said. "I’m so glad I did it.”
‘James and the Giant Peach’ will play at the Park Theater on Aug. 25 and 26. A show will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 25. All tickets for that performance will be $10. Shows will also take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 and 7 p.m. Saturday, August 26.
Tickets for those shows are $10 in advance, $12 at the door or online (Includes a $2.00 convenience fee).
For more information, visit the Rhode Island Youth Theater website, riyt.org/whats-new/now-playing.