Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Jimmy Hippenstiel of Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County
Current Location: Newport Beach, CA
Jimmy, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Before diving in, can you tell us a little about yourself and the Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County?
I have been the resident Artistic Director for The Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County for the last 20 years, a non-profit Children's Theater Company that lives by the mantra "Every Child Deserves a Chance to Shine." The Academy, also known simply as "MTA," has produced multiple productions at the Rose Center Theater, every January and June since The Rose first opened, so it has definitely become our theatrical home base that we love returning to time and time again.
To this day, I have very fond memories of my time spent doing children's theater myself, with an organization called Junior University in San Bernardino, California. My mother recognized early on the passion I had in me to do theater, and taking me to that first audition as soon as I became the eligible age of eight- ok, it was nine...but they cast me!- was the initial push I needed to make this a career choice for life. I've never looked back, and I have never regretted the choices I have made for one moment. Being part of a children's theater, you not only experience a lot of laughs and good times, you develop your skills set while also developing a group of lifelong friendships, kids who had similar dreams of performing and made it a reality alongside a tight knit group of peers.
Case in point, one of my MTA cohorts is fellow Junior University alumni and lifelong friend Deborah Mathews, who now serves in the capacity of our MTA Acting Coach and Assistant Director for our Shooting Stars group. We recently performed together at the 55th Anniversary Show for our children's theater company "JU," and it was extremely emotional and fulfilling to be there, even after all these years have passed. It truly is life changing for these kids to be a part of MTA, they just may not realize how much so yet.
What else should we know about MTA?
Oddly, and sarcastically, enough, the Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County is best known for producing musical theater productions at the highest and most professional level possible. Along with my very talented friend Holly Bisaha, our Brite Stars Program Director, we have combined our knowledge gained through a lifetime of experience to pass on to the eager and passionate students who choose to learn at MTA.
On a first come first serve basis, we take every child under our wing who wants to be there, and no child is turned away for any "auditioning" reasons. Every single kid deserves to feel their potential growing and unfolding under the spotlight, and at MTA, we offer our youth a special opportunity to flourish and learn about themselves by participating in a live theatrical performance, while at the same time nurturing their imaginations, confidence, and self-esteem along the way.
These kids develop valuable life and social skills that will benefit them on the path to any career they choose down the line. We strive to teach the students at MTA to reach for the stars, dream big, and achieve anything they think is possible through hard work and the ability to stay positive. We measure our success by the size of the smiles the students have when they realize what they can accomplish. MTA takes pride in knowing they are helping these kids pave their way towards a successful future in any walk of life.
Can you tell us about what you've been working on recently?
We are just finishing up a "Shine Series," which was an opportunity for our students to perform virtually with several Broadway professionals, who shared their wisdom with the kids and sang a song that they are best known for with the kids as an end game. This, of course, provides a tremendous memory and keepsake for the students. With the uncertainties presented by the world we now live in, we are holding off a bit on beginning our traditional large scale Fall productions that would normally begin casting in September.
We still are registering for many classes, though, that will be taking place soon- including our Tiny Stars and Twinkle Stars programs for four to seven year old aspiring performers, a future production of Moana Jr. for kids ages eight to eleven, and a series of "Broadway Blast" Musical Theater Scene Study classes for ages ten and up, that will culminate in a live onstage November showcase of their talents. In addition, we still offer Acting and Drawing classes, Dance classes, and Voice Lessons taught by our staff of sought-after industry professionals. Like most of the world, there is no longer a sense of normality in our daily operations, but there is still plenty to do at MTA!
What are some struggles you've faced along the way, and how have you overcome them?
We, along with all professional, community, and children's theater organizations worldwide, are currently going through what is surely going to be recognized and remembered as one of the toughest times for entertainment industry professionals in history. Covid-19 is not a friend of the theater community, nor do we want to keep it as a regular patron! There are always speed bumps along the way when trying to produce a big show, but this challenge has been more like the Von Trapp family trying to get over that mountain with Gretl lagging far behind the others. For a non-profit, the challenge is always trying to maintain enough financial stability to keep the doors open. Obviously, the financial toll this ongoing health crisis has taken on theaters, and the village of workers it takes to make a show happen, is truly devastating, and very unnerving and unpredictable for all of us. How we will overcome it is a great question, indeed. What I do know is everyone needs your help and support now more than ever. Any size donation to the theater group of your choice, no matter how large or small, is greatly needed and would be so appreciated during the very difficult circumstances we are going through this year, and may be facing for some time to come. Please visit the Rose Center Theater website, or visit www.mtaoc.org if you feel it in your hearts to donate and help these two worthwhile groups today. Theater has to survive these tough times, for all our sake!
Are there any lessons that you've learned that you would want your younger self to know?
"Make More Money, Jimmy!" I am just kidding. Although I do like cold hard cash as a rule, I have made a career out of doing what I love, which is musical theater. We in "The Biz" rarely do what we do for the money, or even the fame, or the applause. We chose this path because we had to, it was inevitable, and in our blood. In my opinion, doing what you love is always the best choice for your happiness and well-being. Ask me again when perhaps I cannot afford a hospital bill in the future, but for now I must say I wouldn't have changed a thing in my life, so back off younger self, and appreciate what you've accomplished!
Working with artists of all ages, and at all stages in their careers, where do you draw inspiration?
I truly draw my inspiration from my students. I sometimes hear them give a heartfelt testimony of what their experiences at MTA have meant to them, what they've learned, and how much they've grown from it in so many different ways. All of us on the staff agree, "this is why we do it!" It makes sense, because I too gained all of my inspiration and knowledge from my teachers along the way. From my children's theater to high school, from being a part of the enthusiastically talented Young Americans to the esteemed Citrus Singers, from being in shows and on staff at the Curtain Call Dinner Theater to performing around the world with Princess Cruises and Disney. All of this has collectively made me into the man and the teacher I am today. I look at the precious gift each teacher, choreographer, and director gave me along the way, I cherish and value it, and I try to lead by example by mirroring it when I teach. There is honestly no greater inspiration in life than inspiring others as you have been inspired.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think artists play in today's society?
A fine artist makes people feel something. It may be joy, it may sorrow, you may realize it instantly, it may come to you tomorrow. A good theatrical experience is one that sticks in your memory for the long haul, a memory that you can revisit and enjoy for life. To provide the experience of a lifetime is a privilege for, and the goal of, the artist. Make people think, make people remember, and especially make a difference by supporting the arts industry on either side of the footlights.
As we make our way through this global crisis, what are your hopes for the future of the arts?
No matter what direction all of this insanity we are going through takes us in the near future, no matter what the impact it tries to have on a resilient theater community in the long run, doing theater, at any level, is always going to have an importance to it. An importance that is undeniable and life-changing for both the participants and the audience. Artists will always strive to find the maximum impact an experience can offer. My hopes are that we rise above all of this nonsense sooner than later and get back to what we all do best...entertain and inspire!
What does unity mean to you, and how do you think the arts have played a part in unifying people?
Like any experience you may have in sports, theater is a team-building experience. The entire process of meeting a group of strangers that will soon become your best friends, building and cementing those bonds through a rigorous rehearsal schedule, committing to creating a vibrant and meaningful product on stage as a unit of like-minded individuals working as a team, and then reveling in the success of seeing it all come together in one big celebration of artistry, can only lead to one comment of conclusion... "Job well done, team!" Theater is the very best example of just how unifying a force working together to create something wonderful can be!
Can you tell us how we can learn more about the programs that MTA offers?
To learn more about the Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County or to make a donation, please visit our website at www.mtaoc.org.
Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County
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