Young Performers Create Bond at Conservatory
The Paper Mill Playhouse is holding its annual summer conservatory for the region's young performers through July.
It's like scenes out of "Fame."
In one dance studio, a group of teens is doing their best version of "Stomp," beating out a rhythm to dance to with their feet. In the hallway, two teens practice dance moves to go with a song they'll be performing. In the stairwell yet another teen is practicing reaching the high notes of a song.
It's just another day at the Paper Mill Playhouse's Summer Conservatory.
The conservatory is a five-week advanced professional theater performance program for "talented and motivated" young performing artists ages 10-18 years old. Those in the program identify themselves as performing artists and have made the choice to pursue the theater professionally in the future.
The 120 students in the program, who auditioned earlier this year, are broken into three divisions. The senior division is for the 72 students ages 15-18 years old, junior plus is for the 24 students ages 13-14 years old and the juniors are the 24 students ages 10-12 years old.
Most of the program takes place at Montclair State University, but the juniors work and practice each day at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Each day students are in classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The classes include dance, acting, monologues and musical theater. They also have special skills classes on auditioning, callbacks and improvisation.
The students will tell you how they've evolved as performers over the years, especially in areas where they once were weak.
"You learn so much and you feel so professional," said Peter Surace, who is in the senior division. The Scotch Plains resident has been in the program for four years, starting in the junior-plus division.
Steven DelCol, a first-year student in the senior division from Westfield, said the teachers have helped him bring the character through in his performances. "Before I was just performing," he said. "Now I think of myself in the character's shoes."
Teresa Wittleder, a third-year student in the senior division from Millburn, the teachers are dedicated and are the best in the areas where they specialize. It's helped her grow in areas where she's been weaker, like dance.
Erica Morreale, a second-year student in the senior division from Cranford, said two years ago she could only play parts where she was a little kid. But the teachers in the program made her step into other roles. "I wouldn't have done that on my own and I would have stayed a 2 year old," she said.
Chase Harrison, a Short Hills resident in the junior division, said the teachers expect the students to be professional and it helps them to be prepared for the real world of performing. But he also gets to have some fun, like in improvisation class. "We get to goof off and be silly," he said of his favorite class.
The final two hours of the day are devoted to rehearsing for the final performance for the program, New Voices, which over the years has included a number of names from film, television and theater including Anne Hathaway. Each performance has a theme, and this year's is "Pure Imagination," which focuses on fantasy worlds.
Once rehearsals start, the students are gathered together in their sections running through the performance. They'll gather around the piano to sing and act out their parts, and soon they'll be spotting where they'll be singing, acting and dancing on the Paper Mill stage.
But the work for the New Voices performance also happens in their classes. Students will work on their dances for the final performance in dance class. The junior company works on their song together in class, and they also work on skits they wrote for "sharing" when their parents will visit them at the playhouse.
And it's the concert many of the students will say is the best part of the conservatory experience. "The show's the best part," said Wittleder.
Rory Furey-King, a third-year student in the junior-plus division from Montclair, said tech week brings all of the students together at the Paper Mill Playhouse to run the show over and over. It's nice to see everyone performing together.
But one theme every student talks about when describing their favorite part of conservatory is the people, the relationships they forge and how much they learn from each other.
Morreale said one of her favorite parts of the program is watching other perform. Performing yourself can be intimidating. But when you watch others, you get more out of it.
One of the big differences of this year's program, though, is how the students involved has changed. Lisa Cooney, Paper Mill education coordinator, said usually about half the students are new and half are returning. This year, though, two-thirds of the students are new.
But that has made it special for Harrison because he's doing many of the same things as last year. But because the people are different, it has made it for a different experience for him.
But it's more than learning from each other. The students are creating a bond of friendship. "I love the people and hate being away from them," said Surace. Wittleder said her friends from the program are her best friends. "You meet friends you will keep forever," said Furey-King.
"New Voices 2010: Pure Imagination" is scheduled for Friday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 31 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Single tickets range in price from $22.75 to $38.75. Tickets may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office, or online at www.papermill.org.