Kids learn acting and social skills at Whidbey Playhouse

The Whidbey Playhouse is preparing young generations of performers.

Inside the walls of Stars Studio, the Whidbey Playhouse’s rehearsal building in Oak Harbor, the young crew of Shelby Montoya’s ship fought against imaginary waves and horrible sea sickness.

As the children ran from one side of the room to the other, laughing and jumping around, Montoya would occasionally call her pirates to order.

“Captain is coming!” she would loudly announce over the noise, prompting the children to stand straight at once.

“Oh captain my captain!” the children would respond in unison, all saluting Montoya before excitedly scuttling back to their pirate world.

It was a Thursday afternoon in the midst of spring break, and the kids were given permission to goof around more than usual. After all, having fun is what the Whidbey Playhouse’s Would-Be Players program is about.

For about six years, Montoya has been working as the program’s acting instructor, preparing young generations of performers who one day might keep the community theater’s legacy going.

According to Montoya, this is the first time the program has reached capacity since its foundation in 2012.

That Thursday, Montoya was teaching The Stars, a highly energetic group of about 20 children aged 5 to 10 years old. The Stars Class is an introduction to theater, where kids learn to name the different parts of a stage, how to audition, how to memorize lines and more.

Once they enter middle school, students can join the older group of actors-to-be, The Entertainers, where they can learn more about directing and producing a show by meeting with seasoned guest speakers every other class.

Both classes also involve fun games where kids practice improvisation. In the game “Guests at a Party” for example, each “guest” is given a random character to portray, which the “host” has to guess.

Lori Stahl assists Montoya in teaching The Entertainers, which counts 20 middle school-aged kids.

Stahl believes acting classes are very beneficial to children as it stretches their imagination and gives the opportunity to pretend they’re someone else.

She also believes it’s a good hobby for children who went through the pandemic in the early years of their life or education. Coming out of virtual school and social isolation, many of these children did not know how to sit still and respect boundaries, while others developed shy and quiet personalities.

This was the case for some theater students as well. Gradually, Stahl — who is also the Would-Be Players’ representative on the Whidbey Playhouse Board — noticed positive changes in the children’s behavior and confidence.

To Stahl and Montoya, seeing kids get out of their shells is one of the best parts of their job. Over time, they’ve seen students learn how to speak up and gain the confidence to dance and to pretend to be someone else in front of strangers.

Andilynne Eller, for example, overcame her stage fright. Her peer, 8-year-old Addison Horrobin, used to deliver her lines very quietly.

In two years, Horrobin learned to be louder and has gained enough confidence in her skills that she wants to continue acting in high school.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “ You get to see your friends and I love when you get to do the productions.”

Eclipse Garrett, an 18-year-old actor involved with the Playhouse and Oak Harbor High School’s Drama Club, assists Montoya with The Stars. When they first landed the job, Garrett noticed some kids were too shy to even socialize.

“I really feel like those kids have figured out that it’s okay for them to be kids,” said Garrett, who also attended the classes for five or six sessions back in the day.

Gwen Carvahlo, 7, said she mustered the courage to ask two students if she could sit with them when she first joined the program. Now, they’re pals.

Carvahlo said she’s trying to learn and remember the different parts of a stage, which she said can sometimes be confusing.

Garrett said the kids have also been learning how to avoid conflict, to trust their instructors’ advice and directions and to be patient.

Finn Burbank, 9, said he has learned there is a possibility he won’t land main roles, and that’s okay. Last year, he played a frog in “Shrek the Musical Jr.,” a role he said was very fun.

Jack Polvin, 8, loves playing secondary characters, or “tiny main characters,” as he calls them. Currently he is considering pursuing a career in science or acting, but he’s got plenty of time to figure that out.

Garrett recommends families consider enrolling their kids in the program as it can teach useful skills to land a role.

“The theater world, as you get older, gets more competitive,” they said.

Montoya, a longtime theater kid and former Would-Be Player, said the classes can be a place where youths can share their passion for acting with other like-minded people, whereas outside, theater kids are seen as “weird.”

More recently, Montoya has directed shows like “The Laramie Project” and “Shrek Jr. the Musical” and was an actress in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Currently she is looking forward to directing “Seussical the Musical,” a show that combines different stories by Dr. Seuss. Auditions for the summer show will kick off April 27 and are open to actors ages 18 and younger, who can find the sign-up link on the Playhouse’s Facebook page.

For many students attending her classes, this could be a chance to put what they have learned to the test, though they are not required to participate.

Prospective students have three sessions to choose from, fall, winter and spring (which began March 4), with the option to attend multiple sessions at the cost of $125 each — with scholarships available. When enrolling siblings, the extra child can be admitted for $60.

The Star Classes are from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while The Entertainer Classes are from 5 to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Each eight-week session ends with a showcase performance, which this season takes place on April 24 and 25 and features 15- to 20-minute skits that may involve singing and dancing.

Registration forms are available at the Playhouse’s office from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. To learn more about the program, visit, or contact the office at 360-679-2237 or

Photo by Luisa Loi
Gwen Carvahlo, 7, jumps in the middle of Stars Studio’s rehearsal room surrounded by her peers.

Photo by Luisa Loi Gwen Carvahlo, 7, jumps in the middle of Stars Studio’s rehearsal room surrounded by her peers.

Photo by Luisa Loi
Acting Instructor Shelby Montoya and her students brainstorm pop-culture character names for the improv acting game “Guests at a Party.”

Photo by Luisa Loi Acting Instructor Shelby Montoya and her students brainstorm pop-culture character names for the improv acting game “Guests at a Party.”