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Behind the Curtain: Putting It Together

The New Voices concert is coming together while classes at the Paper Mill Conservatory continue

"Bit by bit, putting it together.
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art."

This is a lyric from the opening medley of the New Voices Concert, originally from "Putting It Together" from Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George." It is especially fitting to the senior company at the Paper Mill's Summer Conservatory.

We've been rehearsing daily for hours on end, section by section, bit by bit, to make "New Voices of 2010: Pure Imagination," our culminating concert that's opening in less than two weeks, the best it can be. Since the cast list was released, the last two hours of each day have been devoted to section rehearsals for the New Voices concert.

If you've never seen the New Voices concert, the concert is split into eight sections: an opening medley, a medley to close the first act, a closing medley, three themed sections performed by the seniors, a senior dance section and a section devoted to the junior-plus and junior divisions.

The first major section is called "More to the Story: A Fractured Fairytale," directed by Paper Mill's Artistic Associate Patrick Parker. In this section, a dozen famous princesses (Rapunzel, Belle, Little Red, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Fiona, Ariel, etc.) are stranded on a deserted island and find their princes and their way back home.

The next section is "The Joint is Jumpin'," directed by John Housley. This section focuses on the imaginary bars and clubs found in musicals like "Cabaret," "Pal Joey," "Chicago" and "Smokey Joe's Café"  and consists of nonstop energetic dance numbers.

The last major section is Sara Louise Lazarus' "An American Dream." It focuses on the American dream and the desires and aspirations of characters coming into and living in the United States. Songs like "Someday" from "The Wedding Singer," the title song from "In the Heights" and "I Wanna Be A Producer" from "The Producers" will be performed in this section.

With such a complex concert planned, the senior company spent hours this week rehearsing: the themed sections are almost completely choreographed and staged, the full-company dance numbers are on their feet and the entire day on Friday was devoted to rehearsing for the concert.

The Paper Mill conservatory marks my first real dance experience, and I never realized how intense and how much of a workout I can get from dancing each day. At the end of the day on Friday, Montclair State's Memorial Auditorium was a room full of 72 exhausted, sweaty performers. The next morning, I found walking up and going down the stairs to be intensely painful.

Amidst all of the intensive rehearsals, classes for the senior company continued as new characters, material, songs, and genres of dance were explored.

We worked with a scene from "Avenue Q" in our acting class, dealing with rather difficult characters to portray physically and vocally: hand puppets. A major theme of acting (and a key aspect of the "Avenue Q" scene) explored is the ability to focus on the achievement of a character's objective, regardless of any distractions.

We did an interesting exercise to strengthen this quality in which half the class were given nearly impossible mundane tasks to complete in 15 minutes or a severe make-believe consequence was to occur. The scenario I was given was to fix a gaping hole in my younger sibling's plush toy using a piece of string and a glue stick or he/she would never love me again.

While one half of the class worked furiously to complete their tasks in 15 minutes, students from the other half of the class served as a distraction, forcing them to run the lines from the "Avenue Q" scene. After the exercise, we were better able to empathize with the characters of Princeton and Kate Monster, making the scene easier to perform.

We also were given various forced circumstances to make the scene more difficult to perform: I needed to perform the scene while simultaneously performing the choreography from our opening medley (I failed miserably). Next week in class, we will be performing a scene featuring the most complex characters of the summer so far: Edward and Bella from "Twilight."

In our monologues class, we have all completed our first performance of our dramatic monologues and intense coaching sessions have begun. The instructor works with one student at a time to make each line, each word, even each breath of the monologue as close to perfect as possible. Some students have begun working with another monologue of a contrasting style.

In our musical theater class, we spent the week performing and working on character songs and standard ballads. The song I used for the week was "When Words Fail" from "Shrek The Musical." We have already assembled ourselves into groups of two and three and have begun preparing duets and trios for next week's classes.

In dance, we've been working to perfect our turning and balancing and learned more combinations, including a waltz and a partner swing dance. On Thursday, dance class was spent doing a hour-long deep relaxation exercise, which alleviated our physical and mental stress.

My Skill Session class for this week was "Rock the Audition", taught by Sheri Sanders, who teaches this class throughout the year in New York City to theater professionals. In this class we've been learning the proper ways to audition for a rock musical by singing rock songs personally selected for our voices by Sanders. We're using her coaching to help us feel the emotions behind the music while being "daring, wild, emotional and risk-taking."

Author's Note: Similar Patch columns have begun in Summit and South Orange.

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