Through The Stage Door: The Papermill Playhouse Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory

A student's description of her time in an intensive art program.

Last February hundreds of kids went to Millburn Middle School, sticking numbers on the front of their shirts as they went to audition for a special program offered by the Papermill Playhouse. One hundred and twenty students got into the program. Five weeks. Three divisions. One amazing experience.   

For many years now the Papermill Playhouse has offered a five week long intensive program for kids and teens, ages 10-18 (Junior - ages 10-12, Junior Plus - ages 12-14, and Senior - ages 14-18). I was lucky enough to get into the Senior Company along with 71 others. We spend around 8 hours of our weekdays at Montclair State University attending our classes and rehearsals.  The classes we attend are: Monologues, Acting, Dance, Musical Theater, and a weekly hour long elective: Rock the Audition, Callback Advantage, or Improvisation. Then two hours of rehearsal for the grand finale, The New Voices Concert, at the Papermill Playhouse. 

Each year the concert is performed three times, once on Friday, July 30 night at 7:30pm and two shows on Saturday, July 31 at 3:00pm and 7:30pm.  This year's theme is Pure Imagination. The concert is divided into sections. Section One: More to the Story: A Fractured Fairy Tale (Directed by Patrick Parker), Section Two: The Joint is Jumpin' (Directed by John Housley), Section Three: The Junior and Junior Plus performance, Section Four: It Had To Be You (Dance section - choreographed by Michele Mossay), and Section Five: The American Dream (Directed by Sara Lazarus).  The senior students audition to get a solo, duet, trio, narration, or feature of some kind in the concert.   Auditions for the parts in the concert take place basically all of the first week. 

Monday and Tuesday are the vocal auditions. During the auditions students must sing two songs, an uptempo and a ballad, in front of not only the directors and teachers but all of the other senior students.  Though at first this seems like an extremely intimidating concept, truthfully it went by so quickly it was over before you knew it. And after each audition finished everyone in the audience enthusiastically applauded each performance.  And despite the fact that 50% of the people I spoke to felt that they could have done better in their audition, the truth is, everyone in the program is amazing! We all got in for a reason, and that reason is because we are all talented, dedicated, and looking to learn how to better our abilities as young performers.   

The dance audition was held on Wednesday.  Another very intimidating concept for some people (myself included). Once again they were in front of everyone.  That day during lunch I kept walking by rooms where people were diligently trying to get the steps of the dance down, stronger dancers stepping in and leading, which was an amazing help. The best thing about the dance audition was even if you really messed up (for example getting half way through and then completely forgetting the choreography...) everyone was so supportive. They were cheering just as much as they would for the strong dancers and giving just as much encouragement.  

Thursday and partially Friday were call-backs. People were called up in groups to quickly learn a song and then each would sing individually after a few minutes of practicing all together.  Some people were called up many, many times. Others only once. The key to call backs (or so we were told) is that just because you don't get called up, does not mean that you aren't getting any part. For all you know, the directors may have decided they already know what you are getting and just don't need to hear you again!  

The second week gave all of us more time to focus on our classes. Four classes go on at a time from 9am-2pm. Monologues, taught by John Robert Armstrong, is a class where we learn proper methods on how to approach monologues.  We also learn how to properly use our breathing.  In the class students learn how to not "read ahead of the text" and how to properly get into a monologue. Acting is taught by John Housley.  Once again in this class we practice breathing, which for something we naturally do every second, has a lot more to it than you may realize. In the first week we had to bring in a toy to class everyday and try to find a character and life in it (this was inspired by "Toy Story 3") and then in the end we presented the lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow as we embodied our toy.  The second week we memorized a scene from the movie Enchanted and learned about motive, character, physicality, and relationships between characters in a scene.  In Dance, which is taught by Michele Mossay, what you do really depends on the level of your class. You learn basic movement and rhythm skills, how to bring character into your dance and make it more than just moving to music.  Lastly in Musical Theater, which is taught by Sara Lazarus, students can practice their audition technique and vocal skills.  In this class you learn how to properly present the songs you choose to sing and how to perform them for an audition.   

After classes we have electives.  The only elective I have taken so far is Rock the Audition, taught by Sheri Sanders. It is an absolutely amazing class in which you learn how to audition for Rock Musicals. The rock songs we were assigned varied through the decades and we learned how to properly perform them, how to "feel the music", how it was different from just a normal musical theater audition. The class is full of energy and you come out of it learning a lot about not only how to "rock" an audition but also about how the time period the song is from completely changes the way you perform it.   

The last thing you do in the day is rehearse for the concert. We spent the second week practicing the Opening, Closing of Act One, and Closing numbers.  We spent a lot of time learning the music and now have moved onto the choreography. Rehearsals are a healthy mix of intensity and enjoyment. The cast lists were handed out this past Friday, and for the next two weeks we will be working within our sections so that in the final week we can bring it all together and put on an awesome concert.    

From my own experience the program is a combination of of hard work and also fun and new opportunities to learn.  So far it has been a wonderful experience and I look forward to my remaining three weeks. Once again the concert is July 30 at 7:30pm, and July 31 at 3:00am and 7:30pm at the Papermill Playhouse. Tickets -ranging from $22.50 to $38.75- can be purchased by calling 973-376-4343 or by going online at www.papermill.org.


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