by Susan Tolchin –
The Tarrytown Music Hall has decided to give children of various ages a way to create their own theatre productions. From In School Residencies to In Theatre workshops, the Music Hall Academy, now beginning its second year, is enriching the lives of kids and encouraging them to make The Music Hall their special place.
Thanks to a partnership with the Foundation for the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns and the School District, the Academy will be directing Willy Wonka, performed by fourth and fifth graders at the Washington Irving School. Currently in rehearsal with a cast of 55, the show will run November 13-14 in the school’s theatre/auditorium. While the kids are “having a ball,” said Peter Royston, director of the Music Hall Academy, “they are also learning a lot.”
Royston is a theatre educator and teacher with 15 years’ experience, who has worked with the Tarrytown and Irvington school districts. He believes in making theater part of the school curriculum.
“Kids these days are bombarded by distractions from screens: in their homes, schools, even in their pockets,” he said. “Theater offers a welcome respite from these daily distractions, helping kids develop the intense focus and creativity of the arts, while giving them the same kind of confidence and dedication you get from sports. Theater is about problem solving: How do I memorize my part? How do we bring a river on stage? How do we make someone fly? What better place to develop these skills than the interactive teamwork of the theater.”
His comments were echoed by Bjorn Olsson, the Music Hall’s Executive Director. “We wanted to start an educational program where the focus is on process—not the performance itself. We want young people to engage in the arts for the enjoyment it can bring to them. People today go to concerts or the theatre to see the professionals. It’s passive. We want to educate young people to be participants of the arts…to carry that experience with them for personal growth. “
At Washington Irving, Willy Wonka is played by fifth grader Iris Griffin. “To perform a show, you need to put a LOT of hard work into the production: memorization, attending rehearsals, roping them into your schedule, and the long and stressful tech week. But in the end, it’s all worth it, because theater is awesome!” she said. Other students with leading roles are Kieran Raghavan and Dylan Smith. The kids rehearse after school and in the Music Hall on weekends.
A second In School Residence production is The Lion King, which will be performed by 40 youngsters in grades 4-8 at Saints John and Paul School in Larchmont. In rehearsal now, led by Royston and his team of artists and educators, the show will run December 6-7. The Academy is actively looking to expand their in-school productions.
In Theatre Workshops
In addition, the Academy runs several In Theatre Workshops at the Music Hall. In rehearsal now is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which will be performed at the Music Hall on December 16 by second to fifth graders from all over the county. It may seem a stretch for performers so young, but Royston doesn’t think so.
“When working with Shakespeare for younger kids, I work very hard to shorten the play while not ‘dumbing down’ the language or the story,” he said. “Young people, even kids as young as second grade, really respond to the stories and characters of Shakespeare. They are amazed at how influential Shakespeare has been to pop culture they follow every day – from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to Marvel superheroes like Thor and Dr. Strange.”
The show runs about an hour, and the children rehearse with Peter for two hours a week for 10 weeks. The Academy plans to offer another theatre production this spring as well as other programs. New sessions begin in late February/early March.
While the cast for The Tempest is set, other fall workshops are still open to new arrivals and fees are pro-rated. These include “Sound Magic,” where educator and musician Neal Spitzer teaches young people in grades three to high school the intricacies of sound recording and editing and offers them the opportunity to interview Tarrytown Music Hall stars and record their music.
Another program currently offered is “Dancing Through the World,” a Pre-K and K-1 workshop where puppeteer and theatre artist Jill Liflander takes kids on a magical journey to different countries where they explore that nation’s culture, games, songs and dances. This and other workshops will be offered in the next session.
“We want young people to know that whatever they do in life, they will carry their experience of the arts with them,” said Olsson. “We hope that encouraging them to being active participants now, will light a spark in the arts for the rest of their lives.”
For The Music Hall, the Academy is a way of giving back to the arts community, which has been so generous to them. The Academy hopes to expand its offerings, to include bilingual programs. For more information, go to www.tarrytownmusichall.org.