This Time It’s Personal

Once again it’s been over a year since I posted to the blog on this website. What can I say? I’ve been very busy growing New Britain Youth Theater into an organization that now serves nearly one thousand children and teens each year. Much of my consulting work has been through the Peer Advisor Network program of the Connecticut Office of the Arts. And I’ve been directing more. In addition to scenes for share day performances, I co-directed Secret Santa at NBYT in December 2012. This month I directed Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr. at my own daughter’s school. It was a special experience for me not only to direct, but also to work with her, and to direct at my own elementary school alma mater (kind of, it’s a long story).

To keep this blog updated more frequently than once a year, I’ll begin adding posts about personal projects of my own—like directing Schoolhouse Rock Live. Who knows? With a few family and personal posts, I might even qualify as a “dad blogger” again. Until then, I’m happy to be known as “Producer and Director, Teaching Artist, Consultant, Husband & Dad.”

Here are some photos from Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.

“IT’S POSSIBLE” with the Magic of the Arts

The following article appeared in the January 9, 2012 edition of  The New Britain Herald. I wrote it as Executive Director of New Britain Youth Theater to highlight NBYT programs and promote upcoming auditions for Cinderella.

Our Christmas play last month, I’m Getting Nothin’ for Christmas, centered around a group of young friends visiting the North Pole where they met roughly three dozen elves, eight reindeer, and Santa himself. Programs for the coming summer will include the musical Seussical and the magical characters of Dr. Seuss, including Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, the Whos of Whoville, and more. And the next NBYT production, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, is possibly the most magical fairy tale of all. (Both Cinderella and Seussical even have songs titled It’s Possible!)

As a story about a sad girl and her magical transformation, Cinderella exists in thousands of different versions and folktales around the world. (And the main character isn’t even a girl in all of them!) The story has been told by generations of families, written and rewritten, and adapted into plays, musicals, operas, ballets and films. The Cinderella legend is a story the world never grows tired of hearing.

But aside from a fairy tale, does Cinderella mean much to us anymore? Very few of us go to balls or ever have the chance to meet a prince or princess. And we don’t believe that a fairy godmother can magically appear and change our lives with the wave of a wand. But there certainly are things that can change our lives for the better. The arts are one of them—especially for children.

When researchers working with the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts studied several different children’s programs and activities, they found that young people working in the arts during their out of school hours are four times more likely to have won school-wide attention for academic achievement; they are being elected to class office within their schools more than three times as often; they are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance; and they are over four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or a poem (Americans for the Arts, 1998). By participating in artistic activities and programs outside of their education, children learn to become leaders and responsible members of their communities, of the organizations they take part in, and of their own families. They learn discipline, respect for themselves and others, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Participation in theater especially teaches children and young adults to be both creative decision-makers and team players working together to reach one goal. Another study found recently that students who participate in arts education programs are less likely to drop out of school than students who do not participate in the arts (The Center for Arts Education, 2009). By inspiring their creativity and giving them a way to express themselves, the arts reach the students who might otherwise become drop-out statistics. And if that’s not magical, I don’t know what is.

Promoting Past and Current Seasons

The following article appeared in the August 29, 2011 edition of  The New Britain Herald. I wrote it as Executive Director of New Britain Youth Theater to highlight past season accomplishments and promote the coming season.

Happy New Year!

No, I’m not four months early or eight months late. It is an odd month for New Year wishes, but for many performing arts organizations a new year is just beginning. Summer programs and performances are over, and a new season of events will soon be underway.

At New Britain Youth Theater, the new season coincides with the start of a new school year. NBYT in-school and after-school programs will be held at as many as five New Britain public schools this academic year—which is NBYT’s second season. Theater programs will return to Smith Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School, and Smalley Academy. New programs are being planned for Gaffney Elementary School and Roosevelt Middle School. American Savings Foundation has contributed partial funding for school programs, and additional funding is being sought to cover program costs.

Also in the new season, NBYT will add new programs and expand already successful programs. Performances will include the world premiere of a Christmas play, I’m Getting Nothin’ for Christmas;  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magical musical, Cinderella; the whimsical world of Seussical; and Teen Company productions. The Greater Hartford Arts Council has provided partial funding for these performances. Drama classes will be offered on additional days and hours, preschool classes will be added, homeschool and after-school programs will explore new scripts and activities, and new school vacation week programs will be scheduled in February and April. Demand has also risen for outreach programs in new venues and towns.

Of course, any good New Year celebration includes a look back at the year ending too. In its first season, New Britain Youth Theater produced three plays at Trinity-on-Main—A Children’s Christmas Carol, Babe the Sheep-Pig, and I Know I Saw Gypsies (an NBYT Teen Company production)—for a total of nine performances. Year-long programs in three New Britain elementary schools ended with performances of scenes based on folk tales, fables, and legends. A two-month program at Roosevelt Middle School led to a staged reading of Romeo and Juliet. Back at Trinity-on-Main, eight-week Drama Classes and Homeschool Enrichment Programs also concluded with “Share Day” performances. Summer programs included five weeks at Jefferson Elementary School open to all children, five weeks at Smalley Academy for incoming students, and other outreach programs throughout Greater New Britain.

Over the past year, NBYT held a total of twenty-five performances and share days, directly served over 400 participating children and teens, and entertained over 1800 audience members. Children and teens in NBYT programs came from eighteen different towns in Greater New Britain, Greater Hartford, and throughout Connecticut. Much of the audience attended performances at Trinity-on-Main—bringing many new visitors to downtown New Britain.

As a new NBYT season begins, we’re also making New Year  resolutions. We promise to continue the mission of NBYT: “to enrich the lives of children and young adults by encouraging creative thinking, fostering self-confidence and self-esteem, and developing general life skills through involvement in low-cost programs in the performing arts.” How about you? Will you resolve to make the arts part of your or your child’s life in this new year too?

2010: The Year in Review

I haven’t quite made good on updating this blog more frequently. But I haven’t let two years pass again either, so this isn’t so bad.

The year 2010 brought a few changes for me. Rather than working on several consulting projects, one project has become nearly full time for me.  In February, I became involved in helping to develop an after-school theater program for the Consolidated School District of New Britain at Trinity-on-Main Performance Center in downtown New Britain. Within a short time, this project developed into New Britain Youth Theater. By March, I was not only incorporating NBYT, but had become Executive Producing Director.

With the support of the school district, fiscal sponsorship from Vision New Britain, Inc., and funding from the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, NBYT is now conducting programs in three New Britain elementary schools. A program for homeschool students is held weekly at Trinity-on-Main. Beginning in January, acting classes will be offered on Saturday mornings for ages 4 to 12. Summer programs—which began small in 2010—will also expand in 2011.

Productions have also begun at NBYT. Earlier this month, we produced A Children’s Christmas Carol with thirty children from New Britain and ten other Connecticut towns. NBYT’s spring production is going to be Babe, the Sheep-Pig, based on the book that also inspired the movie Babe. In its first nine months alone, NBYT has already served over three hundred kids!

Aside from New Britain Youth Theater, I’m also an approved consultant for the Peer Advisor Network (PAN) program of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. The Commission also invited me to serve on a grant review panel for arts project support grants. My work with the Commission is a relationship that I hope will continue to grow.

Here’s hoping that 2010 was as good to all of you, and wishing that 2011 will be a strong, successful year for the arts!