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‘Intensive’ Week in Beverly Hills Helps Future Stars Reach Their ‘Broadway Dreams’

Instructor Craig D’Amico, Kyndall Sillanpaa (Fairfield, CA) , Jackson Tanner, instructor Kyle Brown, Samantha LaBrecque (Los Angeles), Ava Daikeler (Malibu) and instructor Nick Adams.

Posted: Friday, July 10, 2015 – 8:56 PM

The Broadway Dreams Foundation is looking for the next generation of Broadway stars.

The nonprofit brought its week-long “Generation: The 2015 Summer Intensive Tour” to the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts recently where 51 students, ranging in age from 8-38 and from throughout the area received training in acting, dance and vocal technique and spent time with Broadway veterans eager to share their knowledge and experience.

The week concluded with a showcase where students performed alongside their new Broadway mentors.

With rolling auditions throughout the year for acceptance to the program, Broadway Dreams brings its program to 10 cities this summer, each with its own creative team.

Executive Director Annette Tanner, a former agent and casting director from Australia , started the musical theatre workshop program 10 years ago; and says it helps fill the void left by slashed arts education programs in many schools.

She met Wallis Director of Education Mark Slavkin at the Center Theatre Group. They decided that after previous years at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse and New Roads School in Santa Monica, that the “The Wallis, with its great location, is an ideal venue. We decided to partner and give it a go,” Tanner says.

L.A. was the fourth city on tour that included Atlanta, Omaha, New York City, Park City, and Aspen, and will visit , Sacramento, Philadelphia, Toronto and Charlotte.

Interest is at an all-time high and Tanner credits Glee and Smash. “Now it’s cool to be a musical theater performer,” says Tanner.

“It’s really fun,” says Tanner. “It’s super empowering and magical to see kids dreams come true. It’s such an opportunity.”

The creative teams feel the same way, says Tanner. “They love it; they remember what it was like starting out and want to give back.”

The faculty in Beverly Hills included: Taye Diggs (Private Practice, Rent, upcoming: Hedwig and the Angry Inch), choreographer Spencer Liff (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, So You Think You Can Dance), Olivier Award-nominated director Stafford Arima (Carrie), Nick Adams (La Cage aux Folles), Kyle Brown (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), director/choreographer Otis Sallid (Smokey Joe’s Café, Black Nativity), Jenny Parsinen (Allegiance), Telsey + Company casting director Rachel Hoffman, Broadway musician, Craig Johnson (Something Rotten), Iggy Azalea’s choreographer Victor M. Jackson, III, Nicole Parker (MadTV, Wicked).

After the intensive, Diggs and Liff headed to NYC  to work on Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Diggs will be taking over the title role on July 22. Liff’s work was recently seen at The Wallis where he choreographed Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening, a production which is performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English and will be moving to Broadway.

Instructors get an Equity salary for a week’s work and often, like Diggs, donate it back to the organization.

Arima, who’s used Telsey casting for some of his productions, met Turner through the firm’s Craig Burns and Hoffman in Atlanta three years ago. He directed his first showcase there—”Express Yourself.” 

In Beverly Hills he taught “Biz of the Biz,” offering advice on topics ranging from head shots to resumes, unions, websites, managers and even college life in New York City. “It can be daunting. Knowing what to expect is half the battle.”

He appreciates that the program offers real-life experience and honest feedback. He tells of hearing a singer not quite up to the job and asking, “do you think you’re a good singer?’ He said yes and I said, ‘I believe one day you’ll be a good singer. Here’s what you need to work on.’”

One Beverly Hills attendee, at what was her ninth intensive, finally got a solo in this year’s showcase—Bring Him Home. “Not everyone gets a gold star,” adds Arima. “Every student is in the showcase, but not everyone will be a lead. Some people are in the ensemble, off to the side doing a step ball change.”

The idea is to not squelch dreams, but illuminate the reality, says Arima. “It can seem that to to make a living in musical theatre is more rejection than triumph.”

Next up for Arima is Allegiance, a new musical with Lea Salonga and George Takei who wrote it about his experience in interment camps. Set for a November opening in New York, “it shows how the power of family can triumph,” says Arima.

He brings this directorial experience to students and sees the program “as a wonderful opportunity to work with and discover the next writer, casting director, actor, producer, designer, costumer and even audience member. I’m inspired by their talent and passion.”

For Avery Harrah, 12 of Brentwood and a student at Crossroad High School for the Performing Arts, the session was her fourth after previous years in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. “I love performing, and this program allows me to be myself.”

She appreciates help with the audition process—”they make them more comfortable”—and learning all that it takes to make it in the business.

The middle schooler credits acting teacher Broadway Dreams Education Director Craig D’Amico (Annie Get Your Gun)with ”bringing something out in me I didn’t know I had.” And the whole program for getting her confidence back.

Over the years, Broadway Dreams students have ranged in age from 6-67. A benefit, Tanner says, is that they become part of the Broadway Dreams family; and get a support system that can help them with finding colleges, an agent and meet directors. “We have kids with Norm Lewis’ and Tituss Buress’ cell phone numbers,” reveals Tanner.

Working with 1,200 students a summer, the program currently has 29 students on Broadway, in regional tours and in major roles in major houses.

Mentors also get to nominate two students to represent the program during New York week. The more than 100 recommended students are seen by Broadway directors and choreographers. Last year, 26 students were cast including a 9-year-old boy who will play Chip an in international tour of Beauty and The Beast, where he will be in China for a year.

The nonprofit spends September-May raising money to help students “with the talent but not the means.” Thirty-one students at The Wallis were on full or partial scholarship.

Broadway Dreams helped Air Groover travel from Altanta to New York and found her a place to stay after she was homeless for a while. She made her Broadway debut in Holler If Ya Hear Me. Now a Broadway Dreams alum, Groover taught “Afro Boogie,” “Hip Hop Grooves“ and “The Art of Storytelling Through Dance” in Beverly Hills.

 —Steve Simmons

 

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