Two truths & A lie: Saskia Hagen Groom

Editor’s note: Two truths and a lie is a popular social icebreaker. Can you pick the lie out of the three statements? The answer will be revealed throughout the story. Look for this profile weekly.

  1. She is a professional model for life drawings.
  2. She spent $6,000 to make kids fly.
  3. Her dog won a Dock Dog Championship in Killington.

Saskia Hagen Groom talks quickly with more enthusiasm than a stage full of kids. At least she hopes so, because that’s exactly what awaits her everyday.

It’s “tech week” for the upcoming production of Alice in Wonderland, she explains. Tech week is the last chance the cast and crew have to correct glitches with lights, sound, sets, costumes or staging before opening night this Friday.

Groom is the producer and director for Rutland Youth Theater, a division the Rutland Parks and Recreation Department. She casts students K-12 in two plays and two musicals each year, plus many workshops and camps in the summer.

The shows are big. Casts of 60 to 80 are common, and they are the full Broadway production, not the shorter, easier “junior versions” rendered for most casts 5-18 years old. “This is a multi-age endeavor, kids learn by watching other kids,” she said.

“The biggest show I’ve done here was Peter Pan at the Paramount. We had a cast of 64 plus the crew,” Groom said, adding that 110 children had tried out for various parts when she was planning to cast just 40 roles. Instead of turning away all these budding actors and actresses, Groom made 20 extra roles by adding to the lost boys ensemble.

“It was a great way to expose children who may be terrified to sing or dance by themselves to the stage,” she recalled.

Peter Pan at the Paramount Theater marked the first time that theater had been fully rigged for flying. “They had had a circus in there before, and they used safety harnesses, but nothing like the contraptions we had these children in,” Groom said. The “flying kits” cost $6,000 and everyone had to be trained carefully for safety, but it was worth it, she added.

“As I sat in the balcony of my own show, I saw kids who were crying they were so excited to see the children flying.” They were completely mesmerized by the magic, she continued.

“Sitting in the audience of your own show, as the director and producer, you usually take notes so you can give the kids feedback,” she said. But during Peter Pan “I found myself just sitting, in my own production, totally forgetting to take notes. That is a huge compliment to these kids.”

Rutland Youth Theater and the Paramount Theater, both non-profit organizations, have created a “creative partnership” in which they split the cost of production and the proceeds from ticket sales. Typically, tickets cost $5 for seniors and children, and $8 for adults. This way they can keep the costs low and provide the best show for the community.

When working with the young actors and actresses, Groom instills a consistent message: “I always tell the kids, ‘It’s great that you’re on stage, but this isn’t about you…This is for the community out there. You’re on stage to tell a story. You’re the story-teller.'”

Groom has decided to produce Miracle on 34th Street for this year’s holiday show the week before Christmas, “it’s a lively, fun and spirited performance,” she said.

Auditions for Miracle on 34th Street are scheduled for Oct. 23-24 and are open to youth and adults. “We will kick off the 10th season of Rutland Youth Theater with this special musical that the whole family could be in,” Groom said. The production will also be the tenth full performance Groom has directed in her two years with RYT.

When choosing which play or musical to produce, Groom tries to pick “shows that are fun or something with a great message… Willy Wonka was goofy; Peter Pan was magical… I also like to pick one that can have a large cast to give lots of people the opportunity to perform,” she said.

The first musical production Groom produced was Willy Wonka. Up to that point musicals had always used the junior version performance with CDs to sing along with instead of an orchestra. Groom asked a RYT alumnus if they should try an orchestra instead and he said “yes” and agreed to manage it.

“I have a pretty good ear, but I cannot teach singing or conduct an orchestra,” she said, “but he was willing to, so we had a full blown Broadway production in May 2010.”

Big ideas can have big price tags, but Groom always says, “Why not start big? If you shut me down once in a while, that’s a good thing.”

It’s worth dreaming, she continued, adding that sometime good ideas can be produced creatively for a lower cost. She admits, however, that she is “so techno-challenged… I’m always asking is this possible? And sometimes they look at me like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Groom couldn’t pull off a show without lots of help and she seems to have it.

Mikki Lane has been the stage manager for nearly all of Groom’s musicals. The stage manager runs all the cues during the show, controls the lights, the green room (which lets kids know when they’re up) and coordinates with the tech crew and orchestra, she explained.

“The stage manager is my right and my left hand,” she said. “Mikki knows the Paramount Theater inside and out… she’s a real expert.”

Shawn Dayton, however, will be Groom’s stage manager for Alice in Wonderland. “Mikki needed break before Miracle on 34th Street,” Groom said. “Shawn is an actor and director just like me.”

It will be his first play as a stage manager, Groom said, adding that while such a transition can be tough, “he is doing great job.”

Katie Ahearn, is also a great new addition. She is a professional costume designer and “has made most of the costumes in Alice in Wonderland herself,” Groom said.

Additionally, Groom would like to thank David Lane, the assistant director for the Paramount Theater and the RYT lighting designer, Kit Hastings, set designer, and Rose Kennedy, costume designer.

“There are so many integral members to put a show together,” Groom continued. The Friends of Rutland Youth Theater is certainly another. It’s the group that comes up with on-going fun and innovative ways to fundraise for these productions. Right now they are running a raffle, which is one of the year’s most profitable initiatives, she said.

Born and raised in Amsterdam, Groom came to America for the first time when she was 20 years old seeking adventure.

“I wanted something totally elsewhere and knew friends that had gone to America to be nannies,” she said. Groom followed that path and moved in with a nice family in Rye, N.Y., just outside New York City.

She briefly returned home for more schooling, but was soon back with a backpack and set to travel. “I never thought I’d stay here,” she said. But she started to believe it in 1998, when she became a business manager for Killington Resort.

After 10 years at the resort, Groom decided to go back to school for her masters in theater and education. During this time she started a non-profit called Cause Productions.

“Before Rutland Youth Theater I directed Vagina Monologues and Steel Magnolias for charity,” Groom said. Vagina Monologues raised $20,000 for Rutland’s Women’s Shelter one year and Steel Magnolias was produced as a benefit for American Diabetes.

In addition to RYT, Groom has a ten-year-old son, Sam Groom, who “is my muse,” she says. She also works part-time in community outreach for Marble Valley Regional Transit (more commonly know as “The Bus”) and is currently working on a short film called The Model, a film about a person who poses nude for life drawings and sculpture at area colleges and art studios.

Of all the skills, hobbies and projects she entertains, training her dog to jump off docks is not one of them.

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