Jeffrey Santoro once wondered what would happen if the best young actors in the state did a show together. He’s not wondering anymore.
Photograph by Jared Castaldi
Kids, if you want to act, you want to act for Jeffrey Santoro. And if you’re good enough to become one of the chosen, be advised:
“I tell them, ‘I am the most demanding director you will ever work with,’” Santoro says (with a little chuckle). “I tell them we’ll have to work hard and smartly to achieve what I want to achieve.”
And what he wants to achieve is absolute veritas in performance. If your lot is to play a 50-year-old Eastern European man, you’d better be convincing—especially if you’re only 15 years old.
Santoro, of Wilmington, is founder, producer and director of Delaware All-State Theatre, an all-star team of young thespians. The group stages one musical a year at DuPont Theatre. This year’s show, “Ragtime,” runs June 17-18 and June 24-25.
“Ragtime” conveys the experience of African Americans, Eastern European immigrants and established white Anglo-Saxons in New York at the turn of the 20th century. The DAST production includes 67 children from 40 schools as far south as Dover, all cast in challenging roles.
“There are more opportunities for kids to create accents and emotions,” Santoro says. “I want to take them out of their comfort zone of playing a teen in ‘Hairspray’ or in ‘Grease.’”
While teaching drama at Sanford School in 2000, Santoro started watching plays at other schools. He saw a lot of talent. “I thought, If I could pick only the very best, we could put on a show and it would be spectacular.”
Santoro came to directing through acting, starting at age 9 at Children’s Repertory Theatre (now Delaware Children’s Theatre). He has participated in more than 100 productions at DCT since, 20 of them as director. That’s not to mention playing at almost every venue in the county, television parts and small movie roles.
With “Ragtime,” as with all DAST productions, he says, there is a single overriding goal.
“I tell the kids they are there for only one reason: to entertain,” Santoro says. “I want the audience to have that Broadway experience. I want people to forget that these are 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds playing very adult roles and dealing with very adult themes. If we do that, I think we’ll have achieved greatness.”
at The DuPont Theatre
dastonline.com or duponttheatre.com