Find Your Voice with the New Movie Speech & Debate

Darren Criss

with Darren Criss

Are you a theatre lover trying to find your voice? Then there’s a new film that’s perfect for you called Speech & Debate!

Based on the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway play, SPEECH & DEBATE follows three teenagers brought together by a series of mishaps. Frustrated by the hypocrisy they see in their parents, teachers, and the entire school board, the unlikely trio set out to find a common truth and make their voices heard as they revive a defunct school club and take on the world. Blogging, blackmail and Broadway belting drive the trio’s bond in this wickedly funny comedy.

Diwata is a girl who is passionate about theatre, but is not thrilled with the casting of the school’s production of Once Upon a Mattress and she wants to do something about it! Solomon wants to start writing about subjects that will spark discussion and controversy in the school newspaper, rather than topics that no one will talk about. Howie wants to form a gay-straight alliance at school, but the school board turns down his proposal. These three teenagers from different backgrounds band together to form a speech and debate club in order to make their voices heard! On their journey together they learn about themselves and make an impact on their community. This film inspires teens to let their voice be heard!

The movie premiere of Speech & Debate was held at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City. I represented Camp Broadway and gathered the scoop directly from the stars! Cast members from the movie including Sarah Steele, Austin P. McKenzie, Liam James, and Roger Bart, as well as numerous Broadway stars stopped to chat with me about their exciting lives and offer up some great advice on how to let your voice be heard as a young person today. It was an experience I will never forget. After interviewing the stars, it was a real treat to watch the premiere on a special big screen on a Broadway stage! The film was hilarious and had the audience laughing the entire time. It was very motivational and inspiring as well! Attendees were encouraged to support the arts by using #FINDYOURVOICE, and sending postcards pledging support for the arts to Washington, D.C.

Lilla Crawford

with Lilla Crawford

Speaking with the stars of the movie and Broadway was invaluable–they offered up some amazing advice for our Camp Broadway kids. The most important takeaway is to find YOUR voice…you never know, YOU could change the WORLD!

Here are some of the interesting stories, and advice given to me from the stars. I loved getting to hear about their experiences and realize they have been through some of the same things many of us go through. I hope you are as inspired by their stories as I am and decide to always let your voice and heart be heard!

What advice do you have for kids who have dreams to be on Broadway someday?

Courtney Reed (Princess Jasmine from Aladdin): “I would have told my younger self when I was a teenager to have more confidence. Confidence, but not being cocky or self-centered. If you believe in yourself, then you can be fearless, and people are very attracted to that.”

Laura Osnes (Bandstand, Grease, South Pacific, Anything Goes): “There are three things. First is beyourself. It sounds so cliché, but only you can be you. Everyone has something special to offer and the minute you try to be what they want you to be or be someone else, it’s fake, and it’s artificial. At the end of the day, being truthful to who you are is going to get you far. And then be patient. Know that you are young and you have your whole life ahead of you and tons of opportunities. And the third one is to work hard. You do have to work hard for it; you can’t take rejection personally. Keep training, keep studying, keep learning, and get a lot of experience, but always go for the dream if it’s in your heart.”

Laura Osnes

with Laura Osnes

with Courtney Reed

Will Roland (Dear Evan Hansen): “You should work hard and be nice to everyone because both of those things will pay off in ways that you can’t even understand!”

Lucy DeVito (Speech & Debate): “Work on the things you are driven to and really love. Show your passion and the stories you want to tell.”

How did you get started in show business?

Kate Wetherhead (Legally Blonde the Musical): “I saw a community theatreproduction of West Side

with Will Roland and Michael Faist

Story in my hometown in Burlington, Vermont and that was it, I was hooked.”

Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Tuck Everlasting, Newsies): “I grew up with older siblings who acted and it was just easier for my parents rather than carpool to just drop all the kids off at whatever show my two older sisters were doing.”

Ben Cook (Billy Elliot, Tuck Everlasting): I got started when I was

about 9 years old. I was a dancer first, my dance teacher said you should take up performing and acting so I started doing community theatre and regional theatre and I then slowly just made my way.”

Amitoz Singh (Speech & Debate): When I was a child I always wanted to act so my mom enlisted me in local theatre, then I did my first play, then I did professional, then signed with a talent agency. This movie really speaks to me. I did

with Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger

debate in high school and had some troubles with nervousness but speech and debate really helped me get over it.”

Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos, Newsies): “I was doing theatre because of my sister, she was doing it and she really inspired me a lot and I saw Newsies on Broadway and that really got me really passionate about it and two years later I was in the tour!”

Luca Padovan (School of Rock): My first job was the Wizard of Oz, it was a community theatre show. I played a munchkin in every performance. I knew I wanted to be an actor by that feeling I had on stage, even though I didn’t have any lines, just being up there with all my friends, getting to sing all those songs, that’s when I knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Carley Gendell (School of Rock): “I did what my sister did, because I’m a copycat! My sister did theatre. I went to Broadway auditions for the fun of it and I did School of Rock and got pretty far! It happens just like that!”

with Luca Padovan, Isabella Russo, and Ethan

Isabella Russo (School of Rock): “Both my parents are actors, my dad was in the touring company of Wicked. I was singing a lot of Broadway tunes. School of Rock was my first professional job on Broadway.”

Ethan Khusidman (School of Rock, Soul Doctor, Chaplain): “My first production was the tour of Les Miserables. I had acting coaches before that, but that was when I really decided I wanted to be an actor.”

What advice do you have for kids who want to go into show business?

interviewing Roger Bart

Sarah Steele (Speech & Debate): “Be yourself, I felt like I spent a long time trying to be somebody else and I should have just tried to have more confidence in who I was than trying to be other girls who weren’t me.”

Roger Bart (Speech & Debate): “Study, study, train, train, and practice!”

Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Tuck Everlasting, Newsies): “Try to stay as true to yourself as possible as a performer. I think the things that make you special are the things that make you different, or rather the things that make you different are the things that make you special!”

Kate Wetherhead (Legally Blonde): “Keep a sense of humor, be fearless, and be nice!”

Ben Cook (Billy Elliot, Tuck Everlasting): “If you really want to do it, and it’s something you are truly passionate about, do it no matter what,

with Ben Cook

create!”

What’s your favorite part about performing on Broadway?

Diego Lucano (School of Rock): “I just love the audience and how they make us feel so special. Every time they applaud it’s like they are saying a job well done.”

Carly Gendell (School of Rock): “I like the people! I like meeting people backstage, showing people backstage, and seeing friends and family when they come to see the show!”

What was your favorite part about filming Speech and Debate?

Austin P. McKenzie (Speech & Debate): “It was the first film I had ever been in and I think my favorite part was learning all of the technical aspects of it, as well as learning the material. I think it’s very timely! It’s a cute, nice, lovely film, and it’s very timely too.”

with Alex Brightman

What advice do you have for kids who want to become actors someday?

Austin P. McKenzie (Speech & Debate): “Do what you love, and what you love is going to find you!”

Ronnie Cho (VP Public Affairs MTV Networks, Candidate for NYC Council, former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama): “Start at a young age, get in front of your theatre class, your music class, I think it’s so important that we continue to fund our schools programs, music education, arts education. It’s so important for American culture. It’s one of the most familiar things people have of the entire world our music, our art, our literature, performances and so important for kids to have access to that. Just get started, get involved, don’t be shy, and have fun – most important!”


You can purchase Speech & Debate right now on iTunes by CLICKING HERE.

“BUZZ, Son of a Bee”- A New Show as Sweet as Honey!

Spring is here! With this new season, comes a special new announcement: To help keep our environment healthy, Camp Broadway is excited to be teaming up with the Broadway Green Alliance in order to encourage theater-loving kids to be more green. Read more about our partnership here!

Soon, the grass will be greener than ever, the birds will be singing, and the bees will be buzzing… hopefully.

In recent years, the population of honeybees has been quickly declining– to the point where environmentalists fear extinction.Not only do bees provide us with honey, but they (along with many other pollinators) also pollinate the plants around us. This means that they help our ecosystem thrive! With the concerns surrounding this current epidemic, a new musical with an exciting mission has emerged:

BUZZ, Son of a Bee: An Actor’s Life For Me!

This original show has been in production in New York City, and aims to knit social change with theater. ​”BUZZ is a new musical comedy that joyfully weaves together the lives of eight individuals. As they quest to find their home in the Theatre,  they stumble upon an unusual catalyst…bees! A story full of heart, perfect for audiences of all ages, BUZZ, Son of a Bee gently reminds us that a life in the theatre can sting you, but can also be as sweet as honey.” In addition to educating others on the importance of pollinators,  BUZZ will also donate money to a different apiary / bee advocacy organization after each performance.

I was lucky to get the opportunity to interview Ariana Johns, the producer and lyricist of the show, who gave me the inside scoop on the show and its efforts to help raise awareness for our buzzing buddies.

You’ve been an essential role to the production team since the very beginnings of BUZZ, Son of a Bee. What has it been like to see this show from the roots to the stage? How has it been to see your lyrics come to life?

JOHNS: “It’s been absolutely magical. Working with Darryl Curry (the composer) has been a delight. From the very beginning, our energies and musical sensibilities merged seamlessly. I’ve written several plays and musical comedy revues that have been produced, ​but this has been a unique experience, in many ways. And each incarnation throughout the development has been a learning experience, sure, but also a true collaboration–with everyone involved. We have such a wonderful cast, crew and creative team. There’s a strict ‘no-divas’ rule when we bring someone new on board, so there’s been minimal drama and lots of fun–over the three+ years of development, we’ve retained most of our cast, largely, I think, because it is such a joy to work together.”

What has been your favorite part of working on this musical?

JOHNS: “​I want to say all of it, but actually, I would love to pass the ‘Producer’ hat to someone else and just concentrate on the creative aspect…the writing of the songs has been special, and hearing them sung by such talented performers is amazing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that being on stage myself (as Carla)​ wasn’t perhaps my favorite thing…sharing my own words in song with audiences and getting such great response is thrilling. But also, the incredibly special gift of being able to create BUZZ with my parents–we’re all actors and writers, with lots of professional experience, but this is the first time that we’ve all been involved in the same project (my dad is Andrew Johns, the book writer and director, and Evangeline Johns, my mom, practically steals the show as Cora).”

This musical has such a unique theme and morphs social justice into theater. Was there anything in particular about BUZZ, Son of a Bee that initially sparked your interest to work on this progressive show? What is it about BUZZ that sets it apart from other musicals currently onstage?

​JOHNS: “We have bees!! There’s a lot about BUZZ that is rooted in traditional musical theatre (which I love)…but as we progressed, the idea that we could create a piece that has social relevance with its focus on environmental issues–and to do it with laughter and music–that became ​a second heart to the piece itself. I’m not fond of being lectured to–who is? But with BUZZ, I think that the message of how fundamental bees are in the chain of life–as Einstein said, ‘When the bees go, mankind will follow in four years’–we get that message across with a spoonful of honey.”

And OF COURSE, we couldn’t help but discuss some facts about bees!

What would a world without bees be like?

JOHNS: “Actually, all pollinators are crucial–butterflies, bats and hummingbirds being some other notable examples–and BUZZ supports organizations dedicated to their survival as well. My hope is that we can have productions across the country and beyond, and engage in a grass-roots manner with local communities to spread the message that human life is not exclusive to other life–we are absolutely dependent on our fellow living beings to survive. If plants don’t get pollinated, we don’t have food. Bee populations have been declining due to many factors, but a chief one is the use of certain pesticides–ones that are outdated but still widely used, although they’ve been banned in certain countries. There will be lots of information–pamphlets, brochures, and knowledgeable people–at our shows, and I’ll be adding more links on our website.​”

Do you have any interesting bee facts that most people don’t know?

JOHNS: “The variety of honey types is dazzling–depending on what plants the bees pollinate, the pollen in the honey will reflect the character of the plant, and raw honey has long been prized for its medicinal and health benefits. Unfortunately, many of the mass-marketed brands are sourced from China, and the pollen is completely removed, along with the associated health benefits. We make sure that the apiaries that we support are ethical and retain the healthy pollen–and you can taste the difference!​”

Want to help the bees at home? Here’s Ariana’s advice!

JOHNS: “Lately, saving the bees has become a popular cause. There are many resources that can instruct you on planting bee-friendly gardens, and other helpful things you can do. Planet Bee Foundation has a lot on their site, as does Xerces Society, and many others– we list several links on our site, as well as petitions you can sign…many organizations let you virtually adopt a hive, which is helpful for city-dwellers like myself.”

Looking to celebrate the coming of spring? Check out the show! BUZZ, Son of a Bee: An Actor’s Life For Me will be holding performances March 23rd – April 2nd at the Sargent Theatre! Tickets can be bought online. For Camp Broadway readers, BUZZ is offering DISCOUNTED tickets! Use the promo code BEEFRIEND  for a $10 ticket.

Want to learn more about the show and the importance of bees? Be sure to like their Facebook page and check out their website!

A special thank you to Eric Gelb and Ariana Johns for coordinating and participating in this interview! 

“Good Luck!…Er, Um- Break a Leg!”

We’ve all been there.

We mutter the “GL” words, and hope we haven’t consequently cursed our fellow actor’s entire performance- while maybe receiving the stink eye from our cast mates around us.

But even during the luckiest month of the year, why don’t we say “good luck” onstage? Although its origins are disputed, many beliefs behind “break a leg” may explain where it came from.

  • Take your bow! Perhaps one of the most common explanations has to do with curtain call. Every actor loves bowing in front of a standing audience after a spectacular performance. During the times of Shakespearean English “break a leg” was a way to say “take a bow”, being that the legs “break” (or bend) at the knee when curtsying.
  • The crowd goes wild! The art of theater originated in Ancient Greece, where the audience used to stomp their feet to applaud after a show. Some believe that the saying originated from the idea that, if the show was good enough, the crowd would stomp so hard that their legs would break! During the Elizabethan era, the audience would show their appreciation by slamming their chairs on the ground. If the chairs hit the floor hard enough, then the chair legs would break- hence, “break a (chair) leg.”
  • A Fracture? David Garrick, an 18th century English actor, is known for his performance in Shakespeare’s Richard III. It is claimed that he became so invested in his character during a performance, that he didn’t notice a fracture in his leg! Therefore, “break a leg” may bid that an actor performs as dedicated to the show as Garrick himself.
  • Unfortunate circumstances… After assassinating Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth jumped from the balcony theater seats to the stage- breaking his leg as a result. Some assume that, in this sense, “break a leg” means to perform in a memorable way.
  • Tongue twisted. In Yiddish, the phrase that means “success and blessing” sounds very similar to the German phrase for “neck and fracture”. With an incident of hard hearing, the sayings may have become confused and the lucky ritual was born.
  • Showered with gifts! Although this isn’t common theater etiquette in the current day, impressed audience members used to reward the actors by throwing flowers or coins onto the stage after an amazing performance. “Break a leg” may refer to the actors’ act of bending down to pick up the gifts off of the stage floor.
  • Show some strength. Physically breaking a leg is usually the result of ambitious effort. Therefore, “break a leg” may be telling an actor to make a great effort while out on the stage.
  • Sweet and simple. Perhaps the only reason actors don’t say “good luck” is because they don’t want to “jinx” the show! Some believe that wishing the opposite of what they hope to happen will cause what they want to happen. (For example, you may wish that you won’t have a snow day, in order to get a snow day.)

Whatever the real reason behind “break a leg”, it’s always a good idea to support your fellow actors and wish them well before a big scene!

Some other lucky theater rituals include:

  • Keeping a “ghost light” on in a dark theater, after the show.
  • Never saying the word “Macbeth” in the theater.
  • Refraining from whistling in the theater.
  • Never wearing a peacock feather or blue clothes onstage.
  • Never giving an actor a congratulatory gift (including flowers) before the show.

We hope you have an… un-lucky St. Patrick’s Day, Camp Broadway! 😉

Do you know any other good-luck theater routines, or have a lucky routine of your own? Comment them down below!

Perfect Production Staff Presents!

Imagine this- maybe your director helped you grow immensely during the show, maybe you don’t want to spend much money, and maybe you want to get them something super special! As theatre kids, we sure do love our production staff. After all, they teach us everything we know and help us grow as performers throughout the process of every show.

However, we always stumble upon a common problem when dealing with these hard workers towards the end of the show… what do we give them in appreciation of everything they’ve done for us?

I’ve been on the production staff for three shows now as a student assistant, so I’ve learned the ropes on what makes a closing gift memorable- both through giving gifts to others, and receiving them myself!

Here’s my guide to standing-ovation-worthy production staff presents!

 

Always Include a Card

My favorite thing when I receive a gift from a cast member is always when they include a heartfelt message, even if it’s only a sentence or two long! It’s super unique to every single person and it’s something that I keep forever, no matter how long ago the show closed. You can get as creative with this as you’d like, from a hand-drawn card, to ones that are customized for the show that you’re in!

Something Unique to the Show

My absolute favorite show gift that I have received is a jar with cookie dough ingredients in it that was decorated to represent the theme of the show! It was an adorable present that kept on giving, because I got to bake the delicious cookies, and now I can use the jar to organize things on my desk. (Feel free to steal this idea, and make it your own!)

An Autographed Object

Something that many people love receiving, that can also be a group effort, is something signed by the entire cast- such as a show poster or a framed photo of the cast! This item can be signed by everyone, and special messages to the production staff can also be added for a personalized touch. With this gift, the entire cast is involved and it can be pulled off at little to no cost.

Jazz Up That Gift Card!

If you want to give a gift card to your favorite staff member, there are several ways you can “jazz it up”. For example, with a Starbucks gift card (which directors can always use, because they need to stay awake during their long nights of rehearsal and pre-blocking for the show) you can include coffee mix, or tea, or put it all together in a mug! Or, maybe buy them a gift card to a restaurant, and include movie tickets for a date night or a night out with friends!

No matter what you give your production staff, or if you can’t give them anything at all, make sure that you tell them they are appreciated! They work so hard to make every show amazing, and put in countless hours outside of the theatre. Even a simple “thank you” is enough to make their entire weekend!

“Opening Up” with Cate Elefante, Lulu in Waitress!

When Cate Elefante comes home from a long day at school, she does something rarely any other kindergartener gets to experience on a daily basis. After Cate eats dinner, her mom drives her to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where she performs the role of Lulu in the hit Broadway musical, Waitress. It may seem hard to believe, but this talented and sweet five-year-old (who hasn’t quite lost her first tooth yet!) is performing several nights per week on the Great White Way! 

Cate began her journey with musical theatre when she attended a musical theatre summer camp for two summers prior to her appearance in Waitress, where she performed in two shows with her camp friends! She has also performed in two dance recitals, but Waitress is her first Broadway show.

Thanks to Cate’s amazing mother, Caryn Elefante, I had the opportunity to talk to Cate in between two of her shows this Saturday! She is an incredibly talented girl that is just about as down-to-earth and sweet (as pie) as anyone can get.

Before delving into her experiences in the show, I decided to get to know Cate better and ask her about a few of her favorite things!

Favorite pie? 

Pumpkin pie is my favorite real pie but Mermaid Marshmallow Pie is my favorite pie in Waitress.

What’s your favorite song from the show?

“Opening Up”

What is your favorite Broadway show that you have seen?

Wicked

Do you have a favorite pre-show routine or game you like to play?

My favorite game to play backstage is called “Kids On Stage.” It’s a charades game.  I also like to play balloon volleyball with my mom right before I go on stage to get my energy up!

Favorite song you like to belt out at home?

“Try Everything” from Zootopia

What’s your favorite thing to do on double-show days?

Go to my Gigi and Papa’s house to eat dinner and relax.  They cook me a nice meal and then I watch movies and play.

What is your favorite place in the city?

The M&M Store.


Of course, I also had to ask Cate about her fellow cast members and her experience playing Lulu, Jenna’s daughter. Jenna is currently played by the stunning Jessie Mueller, who is soon to be followed by Sara Bareilles, who takes her first bow on March 31st. Fun Fact: Sara is also the composer and lyricist of the show!

Are you excited to have your new “stage mama” played by Sara Bareilles?

I mean, I’m going to be so sad to see Jessie go, but Sara is so nice and fun too. Yes, we are all really excited to work with Sara!

What was your audition for the role of “Lulu” like?

I had to say “Hi Mama” and run into someone’s arms.

What was your reaction to getting the role of Lulu?

I was so excited! I wanted get started right away!

What’s your favorite on-stage moment in Waitress?

I love when I’m on stage in the finale and I get to pass around the pies. 

What’s one of your favorite memories with the cast?

They threw me a birthday party and sang to me on my 5th birthday which was the day before I opened on Broadway.  Also, we had a Christmas party in the upper lobby of the theater and we played Secret Santa!

Cate is an extremely busy girl, balancing Kindergarten with a Broadway show! She was quick to point out that her favorite thing about Kindergarten is that she gets to learn how to read; currently, her favorite book is “Knuffle Bunny.”

When talking to Cate over the phone, it became clear that she really is a theatre- and family-loving girl, who absolutely loves every moment she gets with her family, both her real and her Waitress family, that is. Cate has become best friends with her cast-mate, Ella Dane Morgan who doubles as Lulu.

Talking to Cate was so much fun and I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next! A special thank you to Cate & Caryn Elefante, as well as the production team of Waitress for making this possible!

A Day in the Life of a Stage Manager in Training

When seeing a show, you might not realize how much is going on behind the walls of the stage, or even in a room hovering high above the audience.

Inside of the Gershwin Theatre, the home of Wicked, there is an astounding number of people running the show. In addition to the 36 actors telling the story onstage, there are 175 people working behind the scenes! This includes 25 costume/props coordinators, 4 stage managers, 24 musicians, 13 light/sound operators, 13 carpenters, and 2 company managers. In the lobby alone, there are 10 ticket takers, 24 ushers, and 1 lottery manager. Accompanying them are 12 cleaners, and 34 merchandise/concession sellers. All of the staff in the lobby are led by 8 treasurers, 2 house managers, 2 directors, and 1 chief.

Personally, I have had several experiences working behind the scenes, from school choir concerts to full-scale productions. Preparing to tech a show is definitely a huge part of whether the show will run smoothly or not, and that is something that I focus on when I join the production staff for a new show. Since I most frequently volunteer as a student assistant (you can think of me as a mini stage manager), I keep track of kids ages 5-12, move things on and off stage, help with costume changes, write down blocking, play music from the sound booth, and more!

My attendance sheet that I am currently using for Winnie the Pooh KIDS!

One of my first tasks of the day as a stage manager in training is to enter the building and begin taking attendance. I use a sheet with every cast member’s name on it and circle the ones that I am expecting to attend that day. After the scheduled call time, if anyone is late to rehearsal, I call parents and ask if they will be attending. When everyone is accounted for, I head into rehearsal and pull out my rehearsal CDs and script. I make sure to write down all blocking that is assigned to any of the kids, especially those who are conflicted (which is a fancy way of saying that a child has an excused, scheduled absence).

My usual habitat is at the sound booth, where I run sound through the speaker system during rehearsals. This helps all of the actors get more of a feel for the show in terms of what the volume will be like during the actual run of the production. It helps me get a better feel of the order of the show as well- during actual shows, I am responsible for getting everyone on and off stage, and making sure that they don’t miss any cues.

During actual productions, I tape a set list of the show to the wall and get to work. I make sure that all of the props are in order, all of the cast members are in costume, and everyone’s hair and makeup is ready for the stage lights. Before each show, I participate in “circle” with the cast, where everyone holds hands and makes wishes for good luck for that show.

When the show begins and the curtain speech is finished, you can usually find me running behind the wall of the stage, calling out numbers to everyone waiting in the “black box” , where actors sit and wait for their time to go onstage. I’m usually also residing behind the wall, helping cast members into costumes during quick changes!

I am responsible for quick-fixes behind the scenes, such as costume fixes, re-doing hair and makeup, and finding replacement props. One of my craziest stories was when I had to run and send several kids through the lobby to an alternate stage entrance, and run back around the building in time to move a gigantic set piece, which happened to be the “Cave of Wonders” from Disney’s Aladdin KIDS. 

Me backstage with several of the cast members of the last show I assisted, Disney’s Aladdin KIDS!

Although my job behind the scenes is rather hectic, it is definitely one of my favorite things to do. I’m currently working on the production staff of my 3rd show, Winnie the Pooh KIDS!
Remember (if you are a theatre kid yourself) to always thank your “techies”! Their job can get rather stressful and they put in more work than you may think. They may not be seen or heard- but that means that they are doing their job extremely well! So remember, thank everyone you work with (your cast, production staff, and volunteers) and remember that there are so many people required to put on a successful show!

Break a leg!

Julie Barnes, Broadway’s Backbone – Covered by Camp Broadway

Welcome to our fourth chapter of Broadway’s Backbone on the Camp Broadway Blog! If you missed his introductory post, this ongoing segment revolves around Brad Bradley and his podcast Broadway’s Backbone. With a career transcending all genres of the entertainment industry, Brad has been a vital member of the Camp Broadway universe for several years.

According to Brad Bradley, “Backbone is a podcast dedicated to the men and woman of the ensemble: the chorus of dancers, singers, and actors that are the foundation of every Broadway musical. These often-unsung gypsies are the hardest working people on the boards and are Broadway’s backbone. Each episode interviews a Broadway vet about their life, career and dreams, but also delves into the real topics that aren’t always shared. The life of a gypsy may be full of passion, but not always filled with glamour. This podcast is in honor of the folks of the ensemble and the people who plan to be them.”

You may remember the series being followed and critiqued by Eric Gelb, an amazing member of CB’s blog team. My name is Emma Suttell, and I am elated to carry on Eric’s legacy and continue covering the series.

This week’s guest is Julie Barnes, a Broadway and West End Veteran. Credits Include: Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Spamalot, and Oklahoma! Julie describes herself as “the female Billy Elliot”, and began her dance training on a stone floor in her home. She knew from a young age that she was destined to be a dancer, and was the first actor to come to the U.S. on a work visa to be in the ensemble of a Broadway show.

Below are specific sections of the interview with my own commentary and background. If you’d like to follow along with the podcast, click this link: https://soundcloud.com/brad-bradley-17/broadways-backbone-w-brad-bradley-guestjulie-barnes-ep-6

On being satisfied with your work…

BARNES: “I am so lucky to do a show like Crazy for You, because it really is a perfect show. In my mind, there’s very few shows that you can do eight times a week and still be- not even proud of it- but you just- you know it’s good. You go out onstage and you’re like, ‘I know I’m in a really good show’, and that one was one that’s really dear to me. I would do that show again a million times over. I can still remember bits of choreography and stuff.”

My thoughts: While performing in a show that continues for several weeks or even months, it is extremely important to recognize the feats your cast has accomplished, and it is essential to appreciate the hard work that the cast put into the show. However, I wish Barnes would’ve been “proud” of her show, as she mentions she doesn’t use that word to describe her feelings about the show. I feel like the message she was trying to convey here really does express that she is proud of all the work herself and her cast has done.

On the surprise of being casted…

BARNES: “I turned up on the first day of rehearsals, I didn’t even know how I’d got there because one of the guys in the show turned around and said to me, ‘How are you here?’ and I’m like ‘I have no idea how I’m here’… Again, it was some sort of perfect storm, it was meant to be. To be honest, I never thought I’d actually sweep a Broadway stage, like literally, let alone get to perform on one. Like, It was just not something I ever thought was possible.”

BRADLEY: “And then you did it repeatedly and you keep doing it.”

BARNES: “I know it’s crazy, and I’m always grateful for every second, because I know how hard it is for people to get on Broadway who have lived here and trained here, and the fact that I came with a show was so very, very lucky.”

My Thoughts: The excerpt from the interview really puts into perspective how different everyone’s paths to Broadway can be. I admire how she used the words “perfect storm” to describe her experience, as her road to the stage was not easy. She had to acquire a work visa to be a part of the show, and although it was a difficult and time-consuming task, Barnes ended up being in the right place at the right time.

On being thrown into shows as an understudy…  

BARNES: “I was actually sharing a room with ‘The Lady of the Lake’ and she went out of town for something, so I knew she was out of town, but there was also a standby so I didn’t think anything of it. I got into work for a matinee and somebody said to me, ‘Oh, do you know Lynne’s not feeling very well?’, and I was like ‘No’ and Lynne was the standby. So I go into the company office… I’m like, ‘I’m just wondering- is Lynne okay?’ and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah she’s fine’, so I go to my dressing room and literally at the half hour call they come knocking and they’re like, ‘You’re on, she’s actually completely lost her voice, and you’re on’. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever do that role because I was like, there’s a standby, and the standby is there to do that, and she wasn’t in the show. She was just there to do that job, and in my mind, I just never thought that would happen.

My thoughts: I myself have been in a show where we had to throw an ensemble member on as the lead the night of the show. Barnes’ example also proves that the theatre must move quickly and efficiently to put on a successful show.

If you enjoyed this week’s Broadway Backbone, click here for our archives, and visit BroadwaysBackbone.com for the latest podcasts with Brad Bradley!

CB Interviews Musical Theatre of Anthem’s Cast of Elf Jr

Myself in Jovie’s last costume, when she emerges from the crowd to spread her newly discovered Christmas spirit.

Performing in a show during the holiday season can be a challenging feat. This winter, I was cast as the role of Jovie in Elf The Musical Jr. Although Jovie works at the local Macy’s, has never seen snow, and is a bit rough around the edges, she finds herself falling in love with Buddy the Elf…Who is later the inspiration for a song called “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)“. Buddy is a character whom our director described as a “labrador puppy”, referencing his fun and energetic attitude.

MTI International summarizes Elf Jr as: “Buddy, a young orphan, mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole. The would-be elf is raised, unaware that he is actually a human, until his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father and discover his true identity. Faced with the harsh reality that his father is on the naughty list and that his half-brother doesn’t even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.”

I was part of the cast of Elf Jr for two months, and throughout the run,  had the amazing opportunity to interview several cast members of Musical Theatre of Anthem’s production of Elf The Musical Jr, and I learned all of their favorite things about community theatre, from the show itself to what they enjoy doing after rehearsals.

I first heard from the star of the show, playing my opposite, Buddy the Elf. His name is J.R., and he embodied Buddy impeccably onstage.

J.R. – Buddy the Elf

Onstage with J.R., who plays Buddy in MTA’s Elf Jr. Photo by Michele Celentano.

Been Performing in Theatre: Almost 1 Year

Favorite Number in the Show: “The Story of Buddy the Elf” 

Theatre Has Made Him: More Outgoing

CB: “What’s the best part about being in a show during the holiday season?”

J.R.: “All my family flies out for the holidays so they get to come see my shows, which is always exciting.”

CB: “What element of your character is most like yourself?”

J.R.: “Buddy is a child in a man’s body, which is me on a daily basis. He also has a short attention span, like me.”

I then interviewed three other spectacular members of the cast:

Derion – Chadwick

Been Performing in Theatre: Just Over 1 Year

Favorite Number in the Show: “The Story of Buddy the Elf”

Theatre Helped Him With: Socializing and Becoming a Team Player

CB: “What’s the best part about being in a show during the holiday season?”

Derion: “It’s being able to share your holiday cheer and inspiring other people to spread holiday cheer.”

CB: “What is the best thing about being in community theatre?”

Derion: “The best thing about community theatre is, when you participate in a theatre show, you make friends- but with a community theatre, you are a family and no words can explain the love you have for the cast and your fellow actors/actresses.”

Grace – Comforting New Yorker & Macy’s Employee

Been Performing in Theatre: 10 Years

Favorite Number in the Show: “Sparklejollytwinklejingley

CB: “What’s the best part about being in a show during the holiday season?”

Grace: “The best part about being in a show during the holidays is that you get to make great memories with friends and get to spend more time with them in the holiday season. Another rewarding thing is when your family comes and sees all the hard work you put into the show.”

CB: “How has theatre influenced you as a person?”

Grace: “Theatre has made me more outgoing and confident. It has taught me that it is important to have your voice be heard.”

Tor – Walter Hobbs

Been Performing in Theatre: 9 Years, and Tech Work for 1.5 Years

Favorite Number in the Show: “The Story of Buddy the Elf”

Theatre Helped Him With: Being More Confident

CB: “What element of your character is most like yourself?”

Tor: “Walter is mean but he’s very focused on his work and loves making money, so I think that’s what is the most like me.”

CB: “What’s the best part about being in a show during the holiday season?”

Tor: “I really enjoy the holidays and Christmas music, and I don’t mind being busy. The best is driving home from rehearsal when everyone’s Christmas lights are on.”

Myself with several of my best friends, all whom I’ve come to know through community theatre.

Elf JR. was performed at a community theatre in Arizona called Musical Theatre of Anthem. MTA is a no-cut theatre, meaning that everyone who auditions is cast. MTA has been my second home for about four years, and I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned there. Community Theatre is a great thing to pursue for anyone, from aspiring Broadway stars to kids and teens that just want to have some fun on the weekends. 

If you’d like more information about Musical Theatre of Anthem, you can check out their Website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To find a theatre near you, ask a music or drama teacher at your school, visit a local dance studio, or look it up online! Most states have easily accessible community theaters that you can join today! It has changed my life for the past 7 years, and I can’t wait for all of the years to come!

Words of Wisdom for the New Year, from Two Amazing Broadway Pros!

Happy 2017!

 

This year, Camp Broadway is delighted to bring you an AWESOME New Year’s gift: inspiring tips about life on stage from two of Broadway’s most successful pros!

 

The first is Adam Pascal, who most recently played the saucy, sassy Shakespeare in the delightful musical SOMETHING ROTTEN! which had its final performance on January 1st (But don’t worry, it’s going on tour, and you can catch it in a city near you starting January 10th!).

Mr. Pascal is also known for his iconic role of Roger Davis in RENT (a role earning him a Tony-nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, as well as Drama League and Obie awards.) He played this role in the Off-Broadway, Broadway, West End Premiere, and “RENT The Broadway Tour” productions, as well as in the popular movie version. His other Broadway credits include Radames in AIDA (for which he won a Drama League award), Emcee in Studio 54’s CABARET (closing cast), Theo in SCHOOL OF ROCK, Freddie Trumper in CHESS the musical in London (the DVD is available here!), Huey Calhoun in MEMPHIS, and Billy Flynn in CHICAGO. He also co-produced the show FULLY COMMITTED off-Broadway. His albums, “Model Prisoner” and “Civilian” (courtesy of Sh-K-Boom Records), are now available, in addition to his newest album: “Blinding Light”. His several movie roles include those in “SLC Punk!”, “SLC Punk 2”, “Punk’s Dead” and “The Devil’s Carnival Alleluia”. In addition, he is the co-owner of Cybele’s Free-to-Eat with his wife, Cybele Pascal: a company producing cookies that are free of the top 8 allergens, so that children with allergies don’t miss out on yummy snacks.

Check out the wonderful positivity and wise words of the legendary Adam Pascal!

 

CB: What is the most fun you’ve ever had onstage?

Mr. Pascal: There are so many moments! But I think that every new show is the most fun you’ve ever had—at least for me. So, every time I do a show… I always say the same thing. The most fun I’ve ever had is the show I’m in right now!”

 

 

Rory O’Malley, our second Broadway pro, reigns over the Richard Rogers Theater as King George III in the musical sensation, HAMILTON!

Mr. O’Malley is a Tony- and Drama Desk- nominated actor whose Broadway debut was understudying the roles of William Barfee, Leaf Coneybear, and Douglas Panch in THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. He has appeared Off-Broadway in NOBODY LOVES YOU (Drama Desk Nomination) and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE at Second Stage Theater. His most famous Tony- and Drama Desk- nominated role was playing Mormon Elder McKinley in Broadway’s THE BOOK OF MORMON. His résumé also boasts numerous movie and television roles, including “Dave and the Sweethearts” lead singer in the movie Dreamgirls, and Michael in the FX network sitcom Partners.  The opening night of his show, PUB CRAWL (a coming-of-age story about growing up with his single mom and the frequenters of one of Cleveland’s local Irish pubs), was a packed audience at Joe’s Pub in at the Public Theater in Manhattan. And, he is the Co-Founder of “Broadway Impact“, a company devoted to inspiring members of the theater community to help educate and advocate for marriage equality. Check out Mr. O’Malley’s podcast here.

Also check out what Mr. O’Malley told Camp Broadway about life on the stage:

 

 

CB: What is the most exciting thing you’ve done onstage?

Mr. O’Malley: I would say, just getting to have an audience like the Hamilton audience. They’re so exciting!

CB: What is one piece of advice you want to give to teens interested in the arts?

Mr. O’Malley: My advice: keep trying, and keep working at your craft. Act because you love it, and not because you hope people notice you. Do it because it’s a wonderful thing to do every day!

 

Make a resolution for 2017 to spread kindness and act as a positive example for everyone around you. Take a tip from the pros: stick with your passion, be grateful for your gifts, and live in the moment.

And remember: a new year means new goals. Whether it’s singing along to a cast album, writing your own script, or starring on Broadway, you can do whatever you put your mind to!

Happy New Year, from Camp Broadway!

 

Thank You to Adam Pascal and Rory O’Malley, from Anna Allport and Camp Broadway, for the gifts of their words!

Serving up Gratitude and Good Cheer: Backstage at WAITRESS with Adele Miskie, Dresser of Jessie Mueller

Wintertime may bring frosty weather, but behind the scenes at Broadway’s WAITRESS, there is enough warmth and cheerful spirit—and freshly-baked pies— to fuel the entire holiday season!

WAITRESS, which opened for previews in March of 2016, has made Broadway history by being the first musical to have a four-woman creative team (writer, composer/lyricist, director, and choreographer.) It tells the moving story of “Jenna,” a hardworking server at an Indiana diner, dealing with an abusive spouse, experiencing a trio of life-changing events, and finding solace and strength in baking extraordinarily delicious desserts.

Did you smell the pie as you walked into the theater? That was no illusion!

The audience gets a full sensory experience of Jenna’s baking: not only does the aroma of a freshly-baked pie greet theatergoers in the lobby, but rotating pie cases grace the proscenium, pie ingredients are mixed and kneaded rhythmically onstage, and mini pies are sold as concessions in the house. A hands-on theater experience for all!

And even more hands-on magic happens behind the scenes—and that has a lot to do with the show’s dressers.

Anna Allport on the set of WAITRESS with Principal Dresser, Adele Miskie!

I caught up with Adele Miskie—the dresser for WAITRESS star Jessie Mueller—backstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Her career of dressing 16 Broadway shows includes the revival of 42ND STREET, THE KING AND I at Lincoln Center, WHITE CHRISTMAS, MOTOWN, and GOLDEN BOY. FUN FACT: Adele is a friend of CB, frequently teaching at workshops and camp programs! Ms. Miskie’s warm, welcoming, kind demeanor is matched by her enthusiasm for her job. “It’s so exciting! There’s always so much going on backstage,” Ms. Miskie says. “I’m thrilled to be a dresser.”

So, what is a dresser exactly?

Many things. Dressers are part of a show’s wardrobe crew, handling all of the costume pieces and conducting “quick changes.” A strong bond between the dresser and the actor quickens the pace of costume changes, and allows for a smooth backstage flow.

Ms. Miskie: “I am responsible for getting the costumes I handle ready for each performance – pressing, steaming, checking for—and making—small repairs. I am responsible for presetting the costumes as well, putting them in a location where I will meet the actor to do the costume change.  During the show I help the actor(s) change their costumes.  Sometimes this is at a leisurely pace, while other times it has to happen in just a few seconds. These fast ones are called ‘quick changes’ and they must be choreographed and executed the same way each night so that the actor and you have this ‘dance’ to make it in time.

“And then I do whatever extra I can to make the actor as comfortable as possible so that they can focus on their show.  This might include but is not limited to: getting coffee, tea, water, snacks at intermission, setting up a humidifier and other things that the actor might need or want.”

Ms. Miskie believes wholeheartedly in chasing one’s career dreams. She absolutely encourages teens, young adults—people of all ages—to think outside the box, try something new, and be open to career paths that change direction.

Ms. Miskie: “There are so many opportunities in the theater world. Each job has a skill set and you can find which job suits you best. I also encourage students to try to schedule an information interview: talking with someone in the field is first-hand knowledge about what to expect on a day-to-day basis.”

In addition to exploring opportunities in the theater, Ms. Miskie says counting her blessings is a large part of her daily work.

So, listen up, teen Broadway fans: counting your blessings is as easy as pie!

Here are five Broadway blessings Ms. Miskie is grateful for:

  1. Appreciate The Journey: Where You Start isn’t Always Where You End Up!

Ms. Miskie: “I actually started out majoring in Horticulture! I studied it in college, and got my degree. Then an advisor told me: ‘Hey, you’re so good at communicating! Have you ever tried teaching?’ I began to look into it, and got my Masters degree in counselor education. I was a high school guidance counselor for 11 years! After a decade of working in public education, I was ready to try something new. A friend sent me an ad in ‘Backstage’ for costume internships and I called the number. The costume shop manager then offered me a job as a dresser. It changed my life!”

  1. Cultivate Your Connections:

 Ms. Miskie: “It’s so important to make connections, because you never know who will help you in the future! I moved to New York in 2000, and was trying to get my first gig [as a Dresser.] My first two New York jobs were off-Broadway, and I got both of those jobs from my contacts at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia! As it turns out, I was invited to a Christmas party hosted by a friend of mine (also a contact from the Walnut Street Theatre.) This friend was cast as a feature in the revival of 42ND STREET on Broadway. We talked for a while, and later, when he went in for his fitting, and said to the costume person, ‘Hey, I know someone who would be really great. Let me give you her contact info.’ The theater contacted me, and I had a job at my first Broadway show! So: I’m all about networking!”

  1. Say Thank-You to Those Who Deserve It: (Those Onstage, and Those Behind the Scenes!)

Ms. Miskie: “There’s a world of activity happening backstage. There are SO many jobs! People should know that their artistry can be of value behind the scenes, and this can be just as rewarding as taking a bow in front of the lights. Everyone backstage contributes to the production and is deserving of thanks. Just think: there are people backstage getting that slice of pie ready; people underneath the stage in the trap room so that when performers jump off of something onstage, they land safely; people changing wigs and costumes…. I would like students to know that there’s a multitude—a multitude!—of jobs in the theater, if they look a little bit beyond the performance and understand not only what those jobs are, but how many there are.”

  1. Support Causes that You Believe In:

Ms. Miskie: “I would have to say that this piece is so special for me because I think that this is the first time I’m doing a show that has a message that is a current social issue. [The subject matter of WAITRESS: the social, financial, emotional issues it addresses] is just so modern and in your face. And the music is so varied! Ms. Sara Bareilles has done such a great job of dividing up the score so that you’re crying one moment and you’re laughing the next.”

  1. Build Community:

Just as Ms. Miskie is thankful to be a part of WAITRESS, Jessie Mueller is thankful to have Ms. Miskie as her dresser. Smiling, Ms. Mueller embraced Ms. Miskie in a hug after a matinee performance.

Ms. Mueller: “We all rely on each other so much, and we were really blessed in the group that we got, because of the heart and creativity everybody puts into WAITRESS. And I think that it’s a reminder every night of how essential community is. Nobody can go out there and do it alone…. I’m grateful for the teamwork aspect of it and I rely on it very, very much.”

As you settle into the holiday season, take a tip from the cast and crew of WAITRESS, and make it a point to count your blessings. It’s a nice exercise to remind you of all that you have and all that you are. And your newfound gratitude may help you serve up kindness to others!

Share your messages of gratitude in the comments below!

Many thanks to Adele Miskie and Jessie Mueller, from Anna Allport and Camp Broadway, for this delightful interview!




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