When Barak Herman became executive director of the JCC of Central New Jersey in 2007, he knew he wanted to expand the center’s programs in the arts. “We always had a strong focus on recreation and aquatics, and I felt it was time to concentrate on other areas,” he told NJJN in an interview.
Within two years, Herman’s vision was realized with the JCC’s children’s theater program that resulted in the staging of three musical productions at the Scotch Plains facility: School of Rock in 2009, Annie in 2010, and, this year, Bye Bye Birdie with a cast of 70.
Meanwhile, Herman set his sights on adding a theatrical component to the JCC’s summertime Camp Yachad. But to create the program he wanted, he knew he needed a partner. Fortunately, there was one right in Scotch Plains: the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools’ Academy for Performing Arts. He called Dr. Thomas J. Bistocchi, superintendent of the UCVTS district, who embraced his idea.
The result of the partnership will be launched this summer: the JCC’s Summer Academy for the Performing Arts, which will offer high-level instruction in dance and theater arts for children entering grades five-eight. Beth Kasper, music and movement specialist at the JCC and Camp Yachad, is the program director; faculty from the UCVTS Academy for Performing Arts will teach the classes. Session one runs July 5-15; session two, Aug. 1-12, with a maximum of 25 campers per session.
The logistics are simple. Campers will meet at the JCC and then take a bus to the state-of-the art facility on the UCVTS campus at 1776 Raritan Road. At the end of the day, they will return to the JCC.
Bus transportation and lunch are included in the fee. The program is open to all, but JCC members receive a 10 percent discount.
The sessions have different themes, said Kasper, who directed the JCC kids theater productions. “Session one is The Lion King, and session two is Anything Goes,” she told NJJN. “We will use these shows as a jumping-off point for the movement, dance, acting, and improvisation classes.”
Dance classes will include basic modern technique, jazz technique, dance appreciation/world cultures, and social dancing; theater arts instruction will cover basic acting, improvisation, scene study, and theater repertoire.
The children will have access to the UCVTS academy’s black-box theater, dressing rooms, and dance and acting studios. Not only will campers be able to showcase their talents at an end-of-session presentation, they will also attend a Broadway performance of their “show.”
In addition to working on their stage presence, campers will participate in “Project Adventure,” a program that fosters team-building and cooperation, said Scott Rubin, founding principal of UCVTS Academy for Performing Arts. “The program works on two essential skills for any performer,” he told NJJN. “First, it improves physical dexterity through the ropes course and rock climbing. Second, it develops a foundation of trust between the campers as they learn to depend on each other in challenging situations.”
Michelle Perosi, a UCVTS Academy for Performing Arts faculty member who will be teaching dance in session two, told NJJN that she will be assisted by full-time academy students. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids to put their abilities to work. And the campers will gain from the teenage perspective as well.”
Bistocchi told NJJN he is very excited about the joint venture. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for both organizations to partner together and serve the needs of our communities.” Herman echoed his sentiments, adding, “There is so much talent out there and I am pleased that we are able to nurture and develop it through our arts programs.”