Kids whose dream is to perform on Broadway have their own special camp every summer. Since 2010, Local 802 has hosted Inside Broadway’s Broadway Boot Camp. This year, the week-long camp – provided free of charge to the participants – arrived with some exciting changes for the attendees as this wonderful summer program develops and expands.
Executive Director Michael Presser and Program Director Katie McAllister have dreamed up a new name for the camp: Summer Stock Jr. Along with the new brand came some interesting changes in the program’s format.
Unlike earlier summers where each child would perform a solo song and monologue, this year students performed a half-hour show complete with five big production numbers that involved the entire cast.
The theme was melodrama. “Everything Old is New Again” – written, directed and choreographed by Inside Broadway’s teaching artist, Abigail Jones – included some tried and true melodramatic characters: the evil villain and her two cohorts who conspire to take over the town; the absent-minded “grandpa” who lives in the bygone days of vaudeville; the young hero and heroine who save the day; the double agent who infiltrates the show as an informant for the evil mayor; the frustrated director and choreographer who despite all odds, manage to pull off the show; the town diva; and, last but not least, the narrator of the entire show, replete with cue cards (boo, applause, etc.) to insure exuberant audience participation – of which there was plenty.
The student actors had their work cut out for them. The show involved extensive character work, singing, dancing, movement, improv and – in true melodramatic style – a lot of mugging for the audience. The entire show – including the five production numbers – had to be learned and perfected in the four short days leading up to Friday’s performance for family and friends in the Local 802 Club Room.
This year, I had the opportunity to witness the daily progress of the show (and participate as the audience, providing those crucial “boos” when prompted). It was fascinating to watch Katie and Abigail work with the students, critiquing and encouraging their talents, all while trying to create a cohesive show under very stringent time constraints.
For the first three days of Summer Stock Jr., students practiced their musical numbers to pre-recorded tracks. Then, the magic of live music arrived on Thursday when Local 802 member and pianist BJ Gandolfo arrived on the scene to play for the dress rehersal. Acting as musical director, BJ worked with the children, addressing individual vocal issues and pitch problems as well as the overall shape and quality of the musical numbers. After that, Abigail ran the entire show for the first time with BJ playing live.
The difference with live music was startling. It felt like someone turned the lights on. The kids came alive. Hesitant acting became boldly melodramatic. The dancing kicked. The songs popped. Melodrama abounded! Abigail had the freedom to change tempos and alter aspects of the show that were impossible to do using tracks. Everything flowed and moved. This could only happen with live music.
Ultimately, all the hard work and practice paid off. The show was wonderful. From start to finish, the students were visibly comfortable on stage hamming it up as BJ added just the right amount of comedic underscoring. The appropriate “boos” and “hurrays” – courtesy of our narrator – filled the club room as the actors successfully engaged the audience.
I spoke with two of the students about their camp experience. Melissa Fishman, 13, who played one of the villainous cohorts, has returned to the Inside Broadway summer camp for three consecutive years. Melissa plays the flute, piccolo, clarinet and saxophone. She excitedly told me, “I want to become a professional musician and join Local 802 as soon as I can.” Summer Stock Jr. has had a profound effect on Melissa, particularly being at Local 802. As she put it: “I want to teach the next generation of musicians all about the importance of live music.”
Ryan O’Connor, who played the role of narrator, is another 13 year-old returnee to Inside Broadway’s summer camp. Whether it’s performing on stage or working as a stage manager back stage, Ryan is interested in a career in the theatre. Ryan confessed to me, “After doing Summer Stock Jr., I am more confident. Performing in front of an audience is still scary, but it’s getting better every time I do it.”
When asked about performing with living, breathing musicians, Ryan explained, “Performing with live musicians is an important experience for me because something new happens every time I’m on stage. There is a sense of collaboration and flexibility that brings whatever I’m doing more to life.”
Through the combined efforts of Inside Broadway and their talented staff members Katie McAllister and Abigail Jones, together with Local 802, these fortunate children were given the unique opportunity to learn, rehearse and perform live musical theatre in the heart of the theatre district, in the home of live music: Local 802!
If you have any young people in your life who might be interested in next year’s Summer Stock Jr. camp, see www.InsideBroadway.org.