From hours of homework each night to maintaining a social life or simply taking care of their physical and mental health, the challenges students looking to pursue a career in the performing arts face extend far beyond the stage.
“The pressures on young people today are extreme, and I remember the pressures that I went through…and it feels so long ago compared to what they’re having to go through now,” Kellie Carroll said.
Carroll is a multi-talented performer and educator who’s shared the stage with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Sheryl Crow and Destiny’s Child. In addition to her dancing career, she’s also acted on the screen and in theater productions around DFW.
“I had been a dancer my whole life and been performing my whole life. I was one of those very lucky people that knew immediately what my life was going to be – what I wanted to do,” Carroll said, attributing having the opportunity to take part in “out of the box” experiences not typically given to students in the performing arts world with helping her achieve her dreams.
Now, as an educator, she’s helping to create those kinds of opportunities for DFW students by providing them an outlet to discover the mental health skills and support needed to flourish both on stage and in life through the programs at Rebel Theatrics
Co-founded by Carroll and Lucas Atkins, Rebel Theatrics focuses on a comprehensive, holistic approach to the performing arts designed to support and empower students as they make their first steps into a highly competitive space.
Carroll explained that Rebel Theatrics came about as a result of “a couple puzzle pieces that kind of kept falling into my lap.”
“I remember a day that somebody said to me, ‘You know, Kellie, you’re just a dance teacher,’ and it just, for me, broke the disco ball,” Carroll said.
A tragic personal event also played a significant role in inspiring her decision to start Rebel Theatrics with a focus on mental health support.
“I unfortunately lost my brother to a mental health crisis in 2017, and one of the most grounding experiences that I had while grieving was teaching still. It was something that felt still so good, and it was these young artists that taught me what it means to hold space,” Carroll said, describing how she also had students go to her in the years following looking for advice and help to deal with mental health struggles of their own like low self-esteem and peer pressure.
As a result, Carroll said Rebel Theatrics prepares students by providing both “modern, very relevant training” while also working to “open up conversations about self-care and what is their mental health as an artist” to help protect their self-worth and esteem in what can be a merciless industry.
“We’re in DFW, there’s a dance studio, a music school, a theater school on every corner…what we want to provide is that missing element,” Carroll said, describing how Rebel Theatrics looks to provide something different than a traditional schooling model. “We will constantly be listening to what the industry is asking for and what young people need, and then we will provide something, hopefully, that fills the gaps.
That means offering a wide range of programming options, each featuring a different focus on helping students grow. The programming falls under three different categories: a limited series, a retreat and a convention series.
The limited series is an intensive training program for teenagers where theater and dance professionals focus on each student’s individual needs. According to Carroll, students will spend up to 10 to 15 hours a week with Rebel Theatrics developing their craft on top of a daily required at-home workout and self-care routine.
The program is highly specialized towards the students’ goals as each limited series class tops out at two groups of 15 students. The capstone for the course then reflects those goals, from culminating in a student showcase in front of talent agents or simply ending on a snow cone party.
“What we’re trying to do is put the personal back in the business,” Carroll said of Rebel Theatrics’ approach.
Similarly, Rebel Theatrics’ Rebel Heart Retreat provides another highly personalized experience for students. Carroll described the retreat as a full-week experience focusing on “what does it mean to take care of your artistic heart?”
The retreat, taking place in March in Broken Bow, OK, will include a variety of different acting exercises paired with lessons to teach students how to handle stress and setbacks as well as deal with the practical side of making it into the performing arts world in regard to contracts, agencies and other subjects.
Carroll said Rebel Theatrics caps the retreat at 15 students. She chose a smaller course size for both the retreat and limited series to have “a space for a kid to let their guard down” by providing them a safe, personalized environment as teachers.
“They need to feel like they’re the most important person in the room,” Carroll said. “They need to feel seen and heard, and like it’s a safe space, and if it get’s too big, it gets less personal.”
Conversely, the final program in the current Rebel Theatrics mix is a convention series that acts as a three-day intensive Carroll said is “made for energy.” The conventions bring together nationally renowned guests for what Carroll calls a “theater buffet” that includes TV producers, Broadway talent, mental health counselors and more, who will all be available to help provide insight for the attending students and their parents.
“It’s really beautiful, in the time we’re living in, parents are very supportive of theater,” Carroll said of providing classes at the conventions that can help parents understand the performing arts world so “there is communication and bonding with the whole family, not just a kid trying to do this on their own.”
Rebel Theatrics has already hosted a pair of conventions in Dallas, with two more on the way in February and April. Carroll said Rebel Theatrics will also be heading to North Carolina soon as the first steps towards the goal of creating a national tour.
“We want to hit the big theater markets for sure,” Carroll said of bringing Rebel Theatrics’ programming to different areas, singling out California, New York and Austin as examples of possible locales. “We also really have a drive to bring this to cities that have great kids but don’t have the same access to theater and the same opportunities that a big Dallas Metroplex is going to have.”
Carroll said she is “very grateful” for the “really cool kids” she’s met co-running Rebel Theatrics, with the group’s programs poised to connect with many more aspiring performing arts students in the coming years.
“I don’t think I can take all of the credit for that. You know, I think it is the gift of Bob Fosse shining down on us,” Carroll said of having such great students. “I have no idea, but we have really cool kids that have a real passion to be an exceptional performer and also be their best selves.”
For more information on Rebel Theatrics, including upcoming program dates, visit https://rebeltheatrics.com/.
This interview has been edited for clarity.