The answer to the old joke “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” is a great truism. This summer, Local 802 hosted another season of Inside Broadway’s Summer Stock Jr. program, where 14 lucky students enjoyed a full two-week camp with ample time to do just that – practice!
For the past few years, Summer Stock Jr. has offered two separate one-week sessions of musical theater camp for a small group of students. The students enjoyed four event-filled days that included going to a Broadway show, field trips to Lincoln Center Library, backstage tours, in-person talks from Broadway actors or theatrical artisans like make-up artists, all squeezed in between rehearsing four to five big production numbers in the union’s Club Room for their final show on the last day. Whew! Even with this tight schedule, the campers always managed to put on a great show. For the teaching artists, however, the limited time posed a challenge.
This year, program director Katie McAllister decided to change the paradigm. She felt that a single two-week session (instead of two separate one-week sessions) would afford the students and teachers a more relaxed time frame in which to learn the songs and dance numbers as well as enjoy the extra-curricular activities. The Local 802 administration and Executive Board, always eager to support this vital program, happily agreed to the request.
This year’s campers, ranging in age from 8 to 16 years old, were able to spend two luxurious weeks in August using the Local 802 rooms, practicing and rehearsing a brand-new show written and directed by teaching artists Abigail Jones-Brazille and Braddon Mehrton.
Abigail Jones-Brazille was particularly excited about this new approach. “Having two weeks together felt like I was away at camp too! I love this model,” she said.
Jones-Brazille added, “We were able to pack so much in as regards to field trips and Broadway shows, but we didn’t lose any valuable rehearsal time. I feel like the kids were able to fine-tune their crafts from vocals, to character development and movement. They formed even stronger bonds with each other and that only helped to develop that sense of community that we have grown to love in the theater. I am so very proud of them.”
With the added week, Jones-Brazille and Mehrten were able to pay greater attention to detail finessing the dance routines, adding harmonies to the vocals, and introducing fun and interesting theater games to help improve the students’ acting skills. The goal remained the same: a polished performance at the end of the session in front of family and friends. This year, the added time and practice were apparent. The show was tighter, sharper and cleaner, and was performed by the students with more confidence and conviction than ever before.
For teaching artist Braddon Mehrten, Summer Stock Jr. was a new experience. “This was my first time teaching Summer Stock Jr. and I am amazed not only by the quantity of work we accomplished, but also the quality,” he said. “Having a live musician to teach the vocals really freed us up to focus on theater skill building techniques.”
The additional week allowed for more vocal rehearsal time. B.J. Gandolfo, Local 802 member and music director with Summer Stock Jr., appreciated that extra time – it made all the difference. B.J. explained why. “Having more time gave the kids the opportunity to take their performances to the next level,” she said. “They were able to sharpen their harmonies and diction, and infuse the songs with the characterization which is necessary to perform in musical theatre.”
Gandolfo added, “All of the kids were devoted to the process. They worked hard to learn the music, as well as lines and choreography. It’s always great to see their faces light up when they hear a song that’s been around for decades. I feel quite honored to be able to bring the tradition of great music to a new generation and see them learn to genuinely appreciate it as well. I am so grateful that Local 802 was able to let us use the space for two weeks, making this possible.”
Perhaps the highlight of this year’s camp was the visit from Broadway actor Elizabeth Stanley, who is an avid supporter of Inside Broadway. She spoke to the kids about singing, practicing and how to approach a role. The students were enthralled to hear directly from a Broadway performer how important it is to continue to learn and improve one’s craft. When the talk was over, Stanley dashed off as everyone headed to the matinee performance of “On the Town” at the Lyric Theater where Stanley was performing the role of Claire. The same person who, just moments beforehand was sitting in front of them, giving them advice and encouragement, was now performing a starring role, live on a Broadway stage – a priceless experience.
By the end of the two weeks, all the hard work and effort had paid off. The final performance was a huge success. During their final bows, it was clear from the ear-to-ear grins that the students and teachers were proud of what they accomplished – they could feel it. The students beamed at the realization that with more time to practice in a focused, supportive environment, they could bring their performance to that next level – proof positive that practice does make perfect.
Parents or students who are reading this article and who want information on applying for next year’s Summer Stock Jr. program, see www.InsideBroadway.org/programs/summer-camp
CAMPERS SAY ‘INCREDIBLE!’
Campers raved about this year’s two-week Summer Stock Jr. program produced by Inside Broadway and hosted by Local 802:
“I love coming to camp because it is the best part of my summer – ever!” – Giulia
“This was my first year at Inside Broadway and I learned so much about singing and music.” – Genesis
“I had a great time learning to harmonize with the other singers.” – Michaela
“I loved seeing the Broadway shows and hearing the great voices.” – Andriana
“This is just an incredible camp – I learned so much and met so many people. I can’t wait to be back next year!” – Brandon