18 May 2018

Music Theater Programs for Kids

[Two topics readers of Rick On Theater will know are of major interest to me are arts and theater education for school children and young adults and live music in the theater.  I’ve written about them and posted articles by other writers on this blog many times, but I still see a need to reemphasize the importance of supporting these efforts.  (See “Degrading the Arts,” posted on 13 August 2009; “The Sound of Muzak,” 16 June 2011; “Arts & Music Education,” 21 March] 2014; and “Arts In Schools,” 18 November 2015, among others.)  I’ve been holding on to two articles on the subjects for a couple of years now, and I feel this is a good time to republish them on ROT.  Both are about musical theater programs for children and one emphasizes the importance of live music to the experience. 

[First up is the transcript of a broadcast of “On Stage,” a program of NY1 News, the local news channel of Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum).  Hosted by Frank DiLella, the Emmy-winning (2018) host of “On Stage” who’s also appeared as a theater correspondent for the BBC, Sirius XM, “The Early Show” on CBS, CTV (Canadian private television broadcaster), and Al Jazeera TV, the program aired on 18 August 2012.] 

By: Frank DiLella

The classroom: Broadway. The course: musical theater. And the faculty: members of the Great White Way. Welcome to the school of Students Live!

Students Live! founder Amy Weinstein created the company after she was asked by the producers of the original production of “Rent” to form a curriculum that would help develop young audiences for Broadway.

“It grew into an interactive training ground to connect Broadway artists in front of and behind the scenes to young people from all over the world,” Weinstein said.

Students Live! teacher and “Wicked” dance captain Alicia Albright regularly conducts a Broadway choreography workshop for aspiring young performers. On the day NY1 stopped by, Albright was teaching a portion of the song “Dancing Through Life” to some students.

“The goal is that they leave remembering that hard work brings results and also, no matter what they do, whether they pursue this or not, if they do pursue it, hopefully it gives them hope and inspiration to pursue it and if they don’t, hopefully they will support the arts and the Broadway community for the rest of their lives,” Albright said.

“It kind of reminds us if we want to be an actor or singer, we can if we work hard and we put our minds to it,” said dancer Gianna Newborg.

While musical theater and Broadway are considered staples of American culture, in 2008 Students Live! opened up their program to folks overseas.

Forty-eight students from South Korea are currently putting the finishing touches on their musical show entitled “Journey to America.” The musical revue features well known Broadway songs including “One,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “NYC.” Tony-nominated actor John Tartaglia and Broadway casting director Benton Whitley recently attended a rehearsal to provide the kids with some musical theater advice.

“You forget that these kids are from another country. Most of them don’t speak English at all and all of a sudden they come here and in 14 days, it’s total immersion,” Tartaglia said. “All of a sudden, they’re singing all these complicated lyrics from 40 different Broadway shows. From where they started to where they are now, it’s incredible. It’s overwhelming.”

“I think a lot of times, kids from other cultures think they should be seen and not heard,” Whitley said. “I think theater is an incredible outlet for them to actually realize that’s not always the case.”

Veteran Broadway producer Alecia Parker said programs like Students Live! are essential for the New York theater community and beyond.

“It makes our industry stronger and builds new audiences for tomorrow, which we can’t ever forget about,” she said.

While her program seems to be thriving, Weinstein said she has big plans for the future.

“My goal in the next five years is to have a brand name that Broadway has as a conservatory on Broadway to develop younger audiences,” she said. “Not necessarily just to sell a ticket but to create what they need to cast in their shows and to create appreciation for all the shows.”

[For more information on the Students Live program, log on to www.studentslive.net.

[Since 2000, StudentsLive’s Award-Winning live interactive education programming have attracted over 100,000 participants from as far away as Guam, the UK, Italy, and from all across the United States.  The League of American Theatres and Producers and the Theatre Development Fund have awarded StudentsLive grants for Outstanding Education Programs on Broadway.  StudentsLive’s programs are now attracting adult groups and tour internationally in collaboration with presenters all across the world.

[Guest Speakers and workshop participants at the high profile Exclusive Student Matinees and Workshops on Broadway have included: Judge Judy, Geraldine Ferraro, Johnnie Cochran, Tommy Hilfiger, Kathy Lee Gifford, Susan Lucci, George Hamilton, Reba McEntire, Chazz Palminteri, Bernadette Peters, Joey Fatone, Scary Spice

[StudentsLive’s ongoing commitment is to create highly effective, interactive and engaging workshops, events and programs for audiences of all ages in partnership with the best theater the  U.S. has to offer, Broadway.  The organization offers a highly personal inside connection to live theater with educators, corporations, group leaders, families, Girl Scouts, adult individuals, and overall educated, sophisticated, and new theater attendees worldwide.

[StudentsLive’s mission is to create and inspire newer, better and wider audiences and artists alike: and to connect and provide deeply engaging and creative access to Broadway shows by offering the highest quality programming, and services on Broadway today.  As Hilary Clinton stated: “Programs like these enable a new generation of audiences to make the arts a permanent part of their lives.”]

*  *  *  *
by Bettina Covo

[The second article was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Allegro, the member magazine of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, the union that represents members of the pit orchestras for all Broadway and many Off-Broadway shows (among other gigs around town).  It’s no surprise, then, that its pages often contain articles in support of live music in New York theaters—Local 802 supplies the instrumentalists and music directors for all those shows.  I couldn’t agree with them more strongly—even though I don’t play an instrument.  This program, which AFM supports for obvious reasons, is Inside Broadway and the series in question is called Creating the Magic—because that’s what happens when drama, music, singing, and dancing all come together in a theater!  (It’s all the more appropriate that the production for this year was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s most magical of all musicals, Cinderella—which ROTters will know is a show close to my heart since I saw it in its world première on television in 1957 (see my post “Cinderella: Impossible Things Are Happening,” 25 April 2013).]

Live music brings the magic of theatre to kids

What happens when you combine the wonders of live music with the power of live theatre? Magic! Recently, over 3,000 public school children were treated to a special holiday gift – a look behind the curtain into the inner workings of a Broadway show.

Inside Broadway has presented another wonderful production in its Creating the Magic series. This time, the show was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magical “Cinderella” and the venue was the Broadway Theatre at 1681 Broadway.

As the morning began, excited students piled into the theatre, many of them rushing to take a peek at the musicians in the orchestra pit. Even though protective netting prevented anyone from getting too close, it didn’t stop the kids from trying. When asked if they played music, many of the students gleamed with pride as they named the instruments they studied. To say they were excited to hear live music from live musicians would be an understatement.

Inside Broadway’s executive director Michael Presser began the presentation with a short history of the Broadway Theatre, which was immediately followed by one of the numbers from the show. Spellbound, the children watched as the stage director and various crew members from the many theatrical departments – lights, sound, props, set changes, costumes – came out on stage to reveal the secrets of producing a Broadway show.

At every Creating the Magic event, representatives from Broadway unions are invited to speak. Recording Vice President John O’Connor attended on our behalf to talk about Local 802 and the importance of live music.

Later, the talented cast (Laura Irion, Andy Jones, Rebecca Luker, Laura Osnes and Kirstin Tucker) performed several more charming musical numbers from the show, accompanied by Local 802 members Brian Taylor (piano), Billy Miller (drums) and Mark Vanderpoel (bass), under the direction of musical director Andy Einhorn. After each number, Michael Presser interviewed the cast members to talk about their theatrical careers.

Andy Einhorn was then given the opportunity to address the audience from the podium, explaining the role of the music director in a Broadway show. The children were totally engaged, attentively listening to Einhorn talk about the music and the orchestra.

“Participating in Inside Broadway was truly a rewarding opportunity for me and the other musicians who helped out,” Einhorn said. “It was great to see so many children experience the joy of watching how the sets, props, lights and music all function to help create the totality that is a Broadway musical. We are blessed at ‘Cinderella’ to have a large orchestra thanks to our producers and our friends at the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization.”

The presentation concluded, aptly enough, with the song “There’s Music in You,” followed by a question-and-answer period. Most of the questions are usually directed towards the actors and sometimes the stage director and crew. This time, it was truly heartening to see so many of the children ask Andy Einhorn questions about being a Broadway musician. He was pleasantly surprised. “I particularly found myself encouraged that so many students had questions about how to become musicians on Broadway,” Einhorn said.

A young trumpet player asked “How does one become a Broadway musician?” Einhorn’s response, “Practice, practice, practice, but above all – have fun!”

And indeed, fun was had by all, especially the fortunate children who were privileged to see what it takes to produce the nightly miracle of a Broadway show. Thank you to the musicians and the creative team, and to Michael Presser and his dedicated staff as well as the board and patrons of Inside Broadway for giving everyone involved such a magical holiday gift. Finally, as reported in last month’s Allegro, Local 802 was recently asked to join the board of Inside Broadway. We’re proud that we are represented in this wonderful organization.

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