Walter Bobbie, one of the stars of the upcoming Encores! production of On Your Toes, chats about the show, the role of dance in musical theater, and his history with the Encores! series:
Courtesy of BroadwayWorld.com
Christine Baranski, currently starring as the powerful (and stylish) Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife, talks with BroadwayWorld.com about her role in the upcoming Encores! production of On Your Toes:
The second installment of our ‘Spotlight On’ series is with Denver Casado, Musical Theater Teaching Artist for the Education Department since 2011. He spoke with Education Assistant Tara Sheena about how he came to NYCC, some favorite teaching memories, and why his middle school is still footing the bill from his childhood production of Peter Pan. Read excerpts of their conversation below.
What originally drew you to be a NYCC Teaching Artist?
Free tickets to the shows (just kidding). I was working with Sophia Chapadjiev (another NYCC teaching artist) at another school when she mentioned NYCC was looking for a music director/composer. I was immediately interested when I learned the residencies involved creating original songs and scenes with the kids, something I’d really grown to love.
What is your favorite part of working with the students through NYCC?
There’s a moment in every residency when the kids get to choose the style and feeling of music that goes along with some lyrics they’ve created. I’m at the piano playing around when they’re telling me things like “Too happy!” “Needs to be more sad.” “Too sad! More frustrated!”. Eventually we hit the right tone, I ask a volunteer to sing a part of the lyric over the music, and BOOM…we’ve created a song. Their faces light up. I think that’s my favorite part.
Any standout NYCC Teaching Artist memories to share?
When working on a It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman residency at IS 125 in the Bronx we brainstormed with the kids what our original song could be about. Instead of a single song, the kids created a complete comic book plot with a hero, villain, dramatic action, etc. We ended up telling an entire story through a 5-minute song. It was one of those great moments of collaboration where the kids’ creativity was just let loose.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Relaxed, improvised, flexible – lots of listening. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of amazing teaching artists who have given me a lot of tools to use in the classroom. I use these tools only in the service of helping kids understand something, but never as an end in themselves.
Who inspires you as a teacher? Any past teachers, mentors, or influences you want to share?
My middle-school drama teacher implanted in me a passion for theatre. He always went above and beyond to create incredible theatre experiences. In the summers my friends and I had nothing to do, so we’d just show up at the drama room in the mornings. He would meet us there, and we’d put on plays…just for the fun of it. And then there was that time he installed a $20,000 flying rig into our small community theatre for an 8th grade production of Peter Pan. (Pretty sure the school is still paying that one off… ). I was lucky to grow up in a community that really valued the arts.
What has been your favorite NYCC main stage production of the recent past?
I’ve really enjoyed both the shows this season, Fiorello! and It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. As a writer, I always learn something new with every show I see. Fiorello! reminded me of how incredible of a lyricist Sheldon Harnick was, how economical and character-driven. Superman reminded me that sometimes musicals are at their best when they don’t take themselves too seriously. I loved how stylized it was.
Any words of wisdom for kids who want to get more involved in the arts in their schools and communities?
Get together with your friends and put on a show. You don’t need much, just a story, some willing actors, and, hopefully, an audience!
This is the first in a series of interviews with our beloved NYCC Teaching Artists. Every year, they work with hundreds of NYC students to introduce the basics of performing and audience etiquette, and to relate themes from our main stage productions to their schools’ curriculum.
Stephen DiMenna was one of our first-ever Teaching Artists! He signed on with us over ten years ago, and we are grateful to have his energetic presence continue to shine in residencies, workshops and Sharing Sessions. Here are some excerpts from his interview with Education Assistant Tara Sheena:
Tara Sheena: What originally drew you to be a NYCC Teaching Artist?
Stephen DiMenna: City Center Education was one of my first jobs the year I moved to New York in 1995. I met Judith Daykin [then the Executive Director of CNYCC] in the lobby at a performance. She asked what I did and when I said I was a director she said, “ Do you do musicals?” I said “Yes!” and she said “Send me your resume, we have a new Education Program we’re starting.” And, that was that. I’ve been here ever since.
TS: What is your favorite part of working with students through NYCC?
SD: I love when the students really understand how a musical number works and what it takes to perform it with enthusiasm. I love when they learn the vocabulary of musical theatre performing. And, I always love hearing their ideas for lyrics for their original songs.
TS: Any standout NYCC Teaching Artist memories to share?
SD: There are so many I couldn’t even begin to list them.
TS: How would you describe your teaching style?
SD: Energetic, affirming and disciplined.
TS: Who inspires you as a teacher? Any past teachers, mentors, or influences you want to share?
SD: My high school drama teacher, who remains a mentor and inspiration to me.
TS: What has been your favorite NYCC main stage production of the recent past?
SD: I think my favorite all time Encores show was Babes in Arms.
TS: Any words of wisdom for kids who want to get more involved in the arts in their schools and communities?
SD: Find any place in your school or community that offers classes or opportunities to be in a show. You’ll never forget these experiences.
Through the Connections program, students are able to learn in an open environment that balances practicing new dance techniques and hearing experts speak about them. In working with dance companies like Ballet Hispanico, students find ways to relate different viewpoints to our main stage shows at NYCC. In this case, the exposure to the lyrical yet highly percussive world of Latin dance and Flamenco was in anticipation of the performances of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, March 6-9 at New York City Center!
The first workshop, which took place in November, explored the basics of Mexican dance through African American choreographer Talley Beatty’s original work, Tres Cantos. Facilitator Alda Reuter led a movement class that focused on indigenous cultural dances, while musician Peter Basil Bogdanes played the distinctly Latin sounds of the three songs (tres cantos). Through this workshop, the students were able to see how important music is to dance and witness firsthand how both elements work together.
The second workshop, on February 2, was led by teaching artist Natalia Cordero and focused on Nube Blanco, a contemporary work in Ballet Hispanico’s repertory choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The work was originally inspired by Ochoa’s childhood memories of Spanish actress and singer Maria Dolores Pradera. In the workshop, students explored basic Flamenco rhythm and movement as found in Ochoa’s choreography.
Below are some standout student responses to their Connections experience…
Looks like we have some future bailaoras in this bunch!
On Friday, January 25, over 20 educators from New York City schools convened in Studio 5 for a Professional Development Workshop for the upcoming performances of Metafora by Ballet Flamenco de Andalucίa (March 6-9). The workshop focused on implementing basic elements of flamenco dance into classroom curriculums. Participants also explored the contrasting characteristics of flamenco as metaphor.
Omayra Amaya, Artistic Director of Omayra Amaya Flamenco Dance Company, began the day with a flamenco master class that focused on the foundational rhythms and basic techniques of this dance style. The participants then worked with NYCC Teaching Artist Susan Thomasson in two separate lessons. First, they applied the qualities of flamenco to the process of creating original shapes and movement. The teachers explored varied qualities of flamenco (smooth vs. sharp, curved vs. angular, etc.) to improvise and collaboratively create small choreographic studies. The second lesson utilized flamenco’s eloquent imagery and poetic movement as a premise for the participants to create metaphors, similes, and short poems.
The day concluded with the teachers sharing their creations in the form of a “gallery walk” to admire each others’ work. In the coming weeks, they will use their newfound knowledge of flamenco to incorporate its basic principles into their classroom lessons and to prepare their students for what they will see in the performances at City Center.
It was a fulfilling day of learning and sharing! Some of our favorite images are below:
The Fiorello! Sharing Session took place on January 29 in Studio 5 to a bustling crowd of students, parents, and educators from CS 211, MS 210, and PS 84. Over 200 students were in attendance, ranging from 4th to 8th grade, to showcase the hard work they have put in rehearsing musical numbers from the show as well as creating their own original songs. This took place during a ten-week Fiorello! Musical Theater Residency with the guidance of NYCC teaching artists Denver Casado (Music Director), Nicole Kempkskie (Choreographer), Sue Delano (Choreographer), Steve DiMenna (Director), and Robby Stamper (Music Director). It was a riot to see the students recreate classics from the original Broadway show, like “Politics and Poker” and “Little Tin Box,” many of them dressed in costumes they assembled themselves. The students also put their own spin on the themes of Fiorello! by creating their own songs inspired by the musical. This included an ode to the star of the show in MS 210’s “Remember Fiorello” and a hilarious romp about a grumpy teacher and her mischievous students in CS 211’s “Behind the Teacher’s Back.” It was clear the students were so excited to share their work with an audience of their peers and we were so thrilled to see their newfound knowledge of Fiorello! take shape! In case you missed it, here are some of our favorite photos from the session:
Courtesy of our friends at BroadwayWorld.com
In this TheaterMania video, Kate Baldwin, Danny Rutigliano, Shuler Hensley and more rehearse (and dish) about Encores! season-opening revival of the Pulitzer-winning musical.