Love of theater drives young Chautauquan to support CTC in all ways he can


Justin Kuhn, 11, and his younger brother, Jackson, raised $70 for the Chautauqua Fund this summer. Justin donated the proceeds from playing violin in Bestor Plaza, and Jackson sold painted rocks. Justin is an aspiring actor, who spent his summer learning—informally—from the Chautauqua Theater Company. Submitted photo.

Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer

Admission to the Chautauqua Theater Company Conservatory requires that an applicant be at least 20 years old. With those standards, Justin Kuhn will have to hold out another nine years.

Justin, 11, is an aspiring actor. While most conservatory members hold an undergraduate degree — at the very least — Justin already is a fixture at Bratton Theater, and he has not yet entered sixth grade. Though he is not yet eligible to participate in the productions, he is determined to be involved as much as possible in Chautauqua’s theater scene.

“I decided I wanted to be an actor when I was 4 years old,” Justin said. “My school, every year, does a winter concert. My fine arts teacher just put me on the stage, and from that moment on, I just loved the feeling. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to be an actor.”

In his hometown of Tampa, Fla., Justin acts at the Patel Conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. He already has several performances and star roles under his belt, including the roles of Charlie in “Willy Wonka,” Teen Angel in “Grease” and Rooster in “Annie.”

In addition to his devotion to the theater, Justin plays four musical instruments: violin, piano, wind flute and recorder.

Justin’s mother, Susie, and grandmother came to Chautauqua for the “Explore Our World with National Geographic” week in 2009. Last year, they brought back the rest of the family, including Justin and his younger brother, Jackson.

“Last year was my first year at Chautauqua, but I plan to go for the rest of my life,” Kuhn said.

This year, Justin’s family returned for weeks One through Five, during which he took several Special Studies classes. Mainly, though, he spent his time at the theater — sitting in for almost every rehearsal for “Three Sisters” or attending the New Play Festival.

Until he completes a college-level training that will allow him to be a viable applicant to Chautauqua Theater Company, Justin said he hopes to spend his summers supporting the company in any way he can. To that end, Justin became a Friend of Chautauqua Theater Company, making a donation and volunteering.

“I had $250 saved from birthdays, holidays and allowance, and I donated that to the theater, and my mom matched that,” Kuhn said. “The $500 goes to a scholarship for a conservatory actor next year; all the actors are on full scholarship.”

In addition to participating in Friends of the Theater, Justin and Jackson were determined to help Chautauqua in other ways. While Justin played violin in the park, Jackson sold painted rocks on Bestor Plaza; they donated the money they made to the Chautauqua Fund.

“I wanted to donate to the Chautauqua Fund, because I feel that Chautauqua is such a great place,” Justin said. “I would recommend it to anyone, and I want to keep coming here; I just love it.”

Justin said he hopes he can spend next season assisting the theater program as much as possible.

“I am looking forward to the new actors and plays,” Justin said. “I’m also just eager to get back there.”

While Chautauqua summers are enriching, even for sixth graders, Justin has taken the “Chautauqua experience” above and beyond. Identifying and pursuing his passion at such a young age, Justin is representative of how even the youngest generation of Chautauquans benefit from and invest in the Institution.