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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Youth Spotlight: Aria Binkley

A Seasoned Young Actress

By Angela Wampler | A! Magazine for the Arts | October 26, 2011

Aria Binkley is a gifted young actor, singer and dancer. She's only 12 years old, yet she can often be found in the chorus of many a Barter Theatre production, including Beauty & The Beast, The Wizard of Oz, and Annie.

She also has been front and center. As a nine-year-old fourth grader, Aria shared the role of "Susan" with Alexandra Eleas in Barter Theatre's production of Miracle on 34th Street. According to a review of the 2008 production, Binkley "is already a Barter pro, having performed in Evita, A Christmas Carol and Oliver! In 34th Street, she amazes with her spot-on performance, fine singing voice and sense of timing."

This year's Christmas Carol will be Aria's ninth production at Barter, and her second appearance in the Dickens classic. When she was in the third grade, she played Little Sister Cratchit. Now she's Big Sister Cratchit.

A seventh grader at Providence Academy in Johnson City, Tenn., Aria is the daughter of Kirsten Binkley, a singer and actress herself. Kirsten sings in the 70-person choir at her church, and has been in several musicals produced by her church, "but not anything on the caliber of Barter," she says. In the last Christmas musical at their church, Kirsten played the adult lead and Aria was the child lead.

Kirsten, who had formal voice training, says, "I trained Aria early on to sing Broadway songs, teaching her proper technique, and she's been receptive."

Aria has taken lessons in ballet, tap and jazz at local dance studios since she was three years old. But when she's involved in Barter productions, Aria has little time for other arts-related activities. For the past five years, she's rarely been to rehearsals or practice for dance recitals because of rehearsals at Barter.

When Aria was in second grade, her grandmother, who lives in Abingdon, learned about auditions for Barter Theatre's production of Oliver! and suggested that Aria try out. The audition required a one-minute monologue and a 30-second song. "She already had beaucoups of songs in her repertoire," Kirsten recalls, "so I took her for the experience. She recited a poem and sang 'Castle on a Cloud' from Les Miserables. Then they called her back for the dance audition, and she made that show."

Aria's younger sister Ella auditioned for Annie two years ago and had "a great audition, but it came down to a technicality, and she didn't make it," Kirsten says. Ella was heartbroken, but she happily accompanies her older sister and her mom to Aria's rehearsals at Barter Theatre. Ella's turn comes when she takes lessons in dance and gymnastics.

The girls do their homework in the car on the way to and from rehearsals and performances. For Halloween, they plan to take a break during rehearsals to throw on costumes and go trick-or-treating.

"It's a real juggling act going to rehearsals for nearly two months. My van has 180,000 miles on it. It knows where to go!" she laughs. "We live, sleep, eat and breathe by Barter's email schedule. Sometimes that email arrives at midnight with the next day's rehearsal time. And rehearsals are sometimes 5-6 hours a day, every day except Monday.

"Aria never complains about the long hours or the late nights at the theatre or getting up early for school. She's very much at home at Barter. It's a pretty grueling schedule, but she thrives on it. She's a professional ," Kirsten says. "And when she has to leave school early, her school is wonderful. They recognize it as a cultural experience."

Three years ago, Aria Binkley (center) shared the role of "Susan" in Barter Theatre's production of Miracle on 34th Street. Also shown are veteran actors Rick McVey (left) and Mike Ostroski.