Wolfpack Theater Company offers opportunities for young people to work in the arts, and give back to their communities

“Pack”ed location... Left to right: Wolfpack Theater Company members Ethan Hooten and Chase Boydston, with the Company’s founder and artistic director, Adam Hooten. The theater company has worked an arrangement with the Waukon Banquet Center for rehearsal and practice space. Submitted photo.

Inaugural production scheduled ... The recently formed Wolfpack Theater Company of Waukon will present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast May 6, 7 and 8 at the Waterville Community Center. Auditions for the show are this Saturday, January 22, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at the Waukon Banquet Center. Because of the large number of young people with interest in the show, people auditioning are asked to have two or three different parts in mind for their audition. Submitted photo.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

According to the Kids Theatre Network, “Education in the performing arts provides young people with lasting life skills and personal attributes, such as discipline, self-esteem, focus and a sense of teamwork, as well as superior communication and social skills.”

No one needed to tell any of the kids in the Wolfpack Theater Company in Waukon that, though. The core group of young people who make up what they affectionately call the “wolf pack” could be the poster kids for the benefits of youth theater.

Led by Milwaukee-born choreographer, actor, dancer, and director (also parent, and local businessman – he owns Teddy’s Bearly Used Autos in Waukon) Adam Hooten, the young people who constitute the professional theater company Hooten only recently formed, are already inspiring others with their maturity, self-possession, and commitment to community service.

The kids of the Wolfpack Theater Company came together when they were rehearsing for Waukon High School’s production of West Side Story, presented in April of last year. Directed by Sarah Bieber with assistance from Louise Wild, the production was the first live theater production in the area since the COVID-19 pandemic had put the arts, like everything else, into lock-down in early 2020.

Adam handled the setting and teaching of choreography for the production. As early as the summer before the performances, the kids were getting together at each other’s houses and practicing the dance numbers he was preparing for the musical - dances far more sophisticated and demanding than most high school musicals tend to require of young performers.

Anyone who saw their performances knows this: All of that rehearsal paid off. And it instilled in these young people a commitment to each other – to showing up and not letting the others down; to helping each other grow in ability, self-confidence, and mutual respect; and to giving back to the community that supports and encourages them.

“After West Side Story, about 12 kids from the show got together and said, ‘let’s do something that’s good for the town,’” Adam recalls. “And I said, ‘you know, guys? We’ve got enough people; let’s have some fun and do it for a reason - and help out the community.’”

And a young peoples’ theater company was born. This past summer, they put together a “mini-show” and performed for TASC and the Spectrum Network (area organizations that provide quality community-based services to people with disabilities). “It was a way to bring us together again and to team up,” says Ethan Hooten, a junior at Waukon High School.

Like his dad, Ethan is both an athlete and - already - a long-time performer. The elder Hooten was a wrestler, and for years directed community theater, performed in dinner theater, and has done a lot of dance and choreography. The younger Hooten participates in track, basketball and football - and has been performing in musical and theatrical productions since he was in grade school. His younger sister, Ava, is already a star gymnast, performing at college level; Dad’s encouraging her to give theater a try, too.

Auditions for Wolfpack Theater Company productions are always open to anyone 22 years of age and younger in Lansing, Waukon, Decorah and the surrounding area. “The company gives those fourth and fifth graders who can’t be in high school productions a chance to be involved in theater,” Ethan says.

“Because there isn’t really anything for the younger kids. We’re trying to be an option for those kids. It’s all about being a part of something bigger than ourselves, and about giving back.”

The Company will present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast May 6, 7 and 8. Auditions for the show are scheduled to be held Saturday, January 22 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Waukon Banquet Center. Call-back auditions are Sunday, January 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. Anyone 22 years or younger is welcome, at any experience level. Because of the large number of young people with interest in the show, people auditioning are asked to have two or three different parts in mind for their audition.

Most rehearsals will be at the Waukon Banquet Center, prior to moving to the Waterville Community Center, where the show will be performed. Most rehearsals will be Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

“Be ready to have fun and come to work,” Adam says. “We will have a crazy-fun, anything-goes, no-drama, creative atmosphere in our show. I’ve got tons of cool stuff planned - helping a great charity organization and going on a Wolfpack field-trip to a professional show, with some of the ticket sales from our own show.”

Adam says all young people in the area are encouraged to audition. “I want and encourage kids who are in other activities besides just theater to join up,” he says. “We will work around anything you are involved with.”

The decision to perform Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was inspired by another of the Company’s core members, Chase Boydston, a Waukon High School senior. “I’ve always liked watching it,” he says. “I like everything about it - the storyline, the music; everything about it just got to me.” Chase - who, it should be said, nailed a particularly difficult and crowd-appealing dance move in West Side Story - says he always danced when he was younger, and his favorite part of being a company member was “the fun we had, in practices.”

Philip Clocksin, a Waukon High School sophomore who played a Jet in West Side Story and handled lighting for the previous year’s show, is also a core member of the company. He says that while he’s a little new to it, he likes “singing and acting - but I really enjoy group work.”

Another core member, Alaina Gebel - a Waukon High School junior - says she’s “not a huge fan of singing; but dancing is something I love.”

Many of these kids are involved in a lot of things; and Adam thinks that’s great. “I want the kid who’s in everything,” he says. “I encourage them to be out for as much as they can be. But I tell them, make sure your grades are right. Stay out of trouble; help each other - at the end of the day, be a pro.”

The kids in the theater company are taking those words to heart. “We got together and helped each other with our homework,” Ethan says. “And we’re not in the same class - we’re not all even in the same grade.”

For Philip, who is active in his church (First Baptist) and is involved with the Village Creek Bible Camp, the fact that they are all involved in so many things is part of what’s great about being in the theater company. He says Ethan is a good example: “Ethan really breaks the barrier between actor and athlete,” he says. “He really kills it at track and basketball. You’ve got the stereotypes of the ‘theater kid’ and the ‘three-sport athlete’ - and Ethan is a good blend of both.”

All of which raises an interesting question: What kinds of things do young people learn from working in theater and the arts that isn’t necessarily the case with other activities? Adam (via e-mail, and – he notes in consultation with Ethan): “While we really treat the Wolfpack like a sport, and while there are a lot of similarities between what we do and team sports/activities, there are unique advantages to doing the arts and theater,” he says. “It’s something the kids will use all throughout life. Some things I have noticed with the kids already involved are increased confidence in themselves. Many kids come out of their shells and learn invaluable communication skills and how to handle themselves with people of different backgrounds.”

“Another cool benefit of joining a well-run show, is seeing how putting in the work and effort toward a show can be a rewarding experience,” he continues. “It’s different than a sport (while there is hard preparation in that, as well) - where there is a game or multiple games every week. With a show, it’s usually one weekend and teaches kids the importance of having fun, working toward a big, end goal.”

For Adam, as for all the core members of the theater company, an emphasis on “inclusiveness” is key to everything they do. “Everybody has a role,” Adam says. “Every kid that’s in there is going to be important to the story; and everyone who tries out, is going to have a part to play.”

Alaina says she would tell a friend who is thinking about joining the wolf pack that “it is a great opportunity to try something new. Also, it’s flexible enough to work around your schedule. I am the president of the Waukon FFA chapter, and involved in 4-H, volleyball, speech and band. But I also love musical theater. Even though I am involved in all of these activities, the wolf pack is willing to work around my busy schedule. The wolf pack has found a place for me to do what I love and feel accepted.”