Broadway Dreams Foundation Philadelphia Summer Intensive

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

Part 1

In Part One of my Broadway Dreams Foundation’s Summer Intensive story, I will take you through the three of the workshops that I attended and describe what sets them apart from other summer theatre camps and prep programs that charge an arm and a leg for a week. 

Our first master class (class with an expert in the field) was with Morgan James. A Broadway veteran, Morgan has appeared on Broadway in Motown, Godspell, and The Addams Family. Today, she was vocal coaching a group of middle school students. What struck me off the bat was her connection with the students. She asked them questions about what they were taught in school about acting, and how they felt about what they learned. Then she said something unexpected, she agreed with the kids. Some of the techniques that they were being taught are old school and do not necessarily work. As an educator, I hear from other directors about locking kids into certain techniques or tracks. Morgan tried to teach the students the “true voice” in singing. A true singing voice means maximizing your voice with the least amount of effort. She recalled being taught the same techniques as a student but  then went on to teach what she has found to have worked for her. In that short time I was surprised how much cleaner and clearer the sound was from the two students that I was able to observe.

After observing a vocal master class, it was on to script analysis (cleverly named Texting 101). This class was taught by Christopher Hanke, who has appeared on Broadway in Rent, In My Life, Cry-Baby, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The class had a much more collegiate atmosphere with Christopher engaging the students in an analysis of a scene from a play. His goal was to “end up with a very strong character with specific wants and objectives.” Christopher posed analytical questions that forced the students to question their motivations if they were the character. One of the questions was “how the environment to affect the character’s actions.” The class then had to figure out what (from the character’s dialogue and actions) how they were raised and what morals and thought process the character had. This was a room of high school aged students doing what many do in college. Another educator moment that I would like to highlight is that Christopher did not just call on the kids that raised their hands; he went all over the room, bounced up and down with energy, and did many things teachers do in their classroom. If you did not know any better, you would think he was a high school or college educator. But include the fact that his Broadway resume is impeccable, you cannot help but tell that these students are getting the highest level of education possible.

The final class I was able to attend was a rehearsal of the song “Mein Herr” from Cabaret. Deidre Goodwin was directing this particular piece that had an advanced group of high school actresses. Deidre’s resume speaks for itself. She has appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Boys from Syracuse, Nine, Never Gonna Dance, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, A Chorus Line (Revival), and can most recently be seen in Chicago. What I saw was high school aged students preparing like seasoned Broadway professionals. Every little step, gesture, and look was scrutinized, rehearsed, and rehearsed again.  Watching Deidre work was a master class in how to run a choreography rehearsal. Her eyes scanning each performer during each run through, stopping, making adjustments, and going again, then making a small change and expecting it to happen in the next run through. The actresses delivered those changes almost immediately and it was a joy to see. You saw the desire to learn and to teach merge into this symbiotic relationship.

After attending two master classes and a rehearsal, Hilary introduced me to Creative & Educational Programming Director, Craig D’Amico (Annie Get Your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof) and Artistic Advisor, Stafford Arima (Ragtime, Carrie, Altar Boyz, Allegiance). I asked them the obvious question that many parents would ask. What makes Broadway Dreams Foundation different than all these other programs that are offered in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area? Craig’s response was that Broadway Dreams is “a combination of master classes and immediate application of what is being learned by Broadway professionals. Each student is building their acting skills, as well as building relationships that continue to grow after the camp is over. This relationship is not just with other students but their clinicians, interns, and guest artists. Stafford added that, “this is a mirror of the Broadway acting experience”. It provides these students with real-life situations and expectations of actors so that they learn as many aspects as they can. 

Hilary then allowed me to take a glimpse into one of their best classes entitled “Do You Want to Know the Truth?” In this class students voluntarily did a mock audition in front of a panel lead by Stafford Arima, and Annette Turner (Founder and President). Their class mimicked a professional audition. They were honest and gave student who performed every little thing they saw, both positive and negative. The line that Stafford used that has stuck in my mind is, “My truth to you is…” The advice given was meant to be inflective for each student and reminded them to be real and how to better do that.

Following my time with Craig D’Amico and Stafford Arima, Hilary introduced me to Elon University student and 2nd Year Intern, Cassidy. What Cassidy wanted to emphasize about the program is the education she is getting. She is not only learning how to be a performer and take classes; the production aspect and getting an opportunity to teach and perform as well with the students. Internships are available and tuition is free, but you have to make your own living arrangements, although Broadway Dreams help arrange that.

Ok, so I gave you a narrative of my observations of the program. That was from the music educator’s perspective, but let’s say you are a parent and want to know more. I asked questions that I knew the parents of my own students would be curious about. I have been fortunate to have students work Off Broadway, have aspirations of making theatre their lives, and am an uncle to a couple aspiring actors and actresses. That will come in Part Two 

Part 2

Every year around April I get asked, “What is the best program I can enroll my child in to be a Broadway performer?” Each year I would mention programs that were local or programs in New York City. Sometimes parents come to me with a list of programs they have found that they want my opinion on. Many of these programs are sleep away, are in New York City (or various parts of the country), and are some of the most expensive programs I have ever heard of. Over the past couple of years, I have been hearing about the Broadway Dreams Foundation and the work they are doing so I took a day last week to visit them and learn about their program and what has set them apart from all other programs I have heard and seen. In this first article of a three part series, I will discuss the basics of Broadway Dreams.

I was able to meet with Hilary Miller, Marketing Director of the Broadway Dreams Foundation, and she took me around to some of the classes and introduced me to members of the Broadway Dreams staff. After observing the program, speaking with the staff, and returning for their matinee performance, I can clearly say with certainty that if your child is passionate for, wants to improve in, and begin their training to attempt to have a Broadway career, you want to enroll your child with Broadway Dreams.

How old do you have to be?
There have been students as young as 5-6, but generally 7-8 year olds would be a good place to start. Each child under 14 has an intern who serves as their counselor for the week.  Parents can stay in the Kimmel Center, but must spend the day in the lobby area if they choose to stay.

What type of schedule will students have?
Their week will consist of individual coaching, ensemble work, and in the little free time they have, they are able to attend other classes.

How many teachers are there and what is their focus:
Broadway Dreams tries to cater the number of coaches and their fields to the amount of students attending and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

What should be the goal of my child?
-The goal of Broadway Dreams is to prep your child for what they want to do. Hilary Miller explained that if it’s developing confidence, if it’s improving for a school show or if it’s auditioning for Broadway, the foundation helps each student with what it is they are looking for.

Where can my child attend Broadway Dreams Summer Intensives?
-There are intensives in Atlanta, Omaha, New York City, Aspen, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Toronto. They start in May and run through August, each during a different week of the year.

What is the tuition cost, how long is the program, when can I sign up?
The tuition for Philadelphia ran about $1,075 per student for the week, but tuition varies. The fee covers materials, and a complimentary one look headshot session with a professional photographer. Each session is about a week. Registration begins around December 1st to the first day of the intensive and the scholarship application process begins February/March. There are family rates available, as well as payment plans.

Are there scholarships available?
Broadway Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization and needs-based scholarships are available ranging from partial to full tuition. Nearly 50% of Broadway Dreams students receive some level of scholarship.

There are just a few other things you should know about Broadway Dreams. They are constantly doing fundraising to help reach the greatest amount of students possible. In other words, if you are looking for a charity to support for kids and for theatre, this is it. 

Broadway Dreams is also looking to expand and invest more of their programs in the cities they visit. If you are interested in Broadway Dreams but not sure if your child is ready for the program, there are weekend Triple Threat Extreme camps, a Broadway Boost Program that brings in a Broadway Dreams coach to work with your high school program, and a New York Initiative that has programs all year round. You can also see them perform locally at the Kimmel Center Mummers Event.

Finally, the Broadway Dreams Foundation offered something called BDF University on the last day in Philadelphia. The event is meant for students preparing for college, for the interns, and for parents and it mocked college auditions. There are also times there will be casting directors from the various agencies who may attend the program. The master class teachers mentor and help teach networking to the students. They get to meet, connect, and be seen by people who can advise them on the next step(s) they should take.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include how much help the Kimmel Center is to Broadway Dreams. They subsidize the program, and their advocacy and philanthropy for Broadway Dreams makes the program in Philadelphia possible. Hilary Miller could not say enough about the Board of Directors and staff of the Kimmel Center and their allowance of Broadway Dreams to use Perelman Hall and so much of the complex for the week. The arts are alive and well in Philadelphia and supported greatly by the Kimmel Center and those who support its programs.

In closing, as an educator, musical theatre advocate, and uncle, I have never seen a program close to what Broadway Dreams provides. This IS the program that I believe all serious middle school, high school, and college students should be attending. If you have any further questions about the program, visit their website. 

Broadway Dreams Foundation

In Part Three and final article, I’ll discuss the concert that Broadway Dreams performs for the parents, family and friends at the Perelman Theatre at the Kimmel Center.

Part 3

After reading Parts One and Two, you are thinking that because the participants had so many master classes and rehearsals that the production must be short and sweet. The production that Broadway Dreams Foundation put on in the Perelman Theatre on August 13th was nothing short of a spectacular two-hour professional performance.

What made the production unique is that it is not just a recital of performance pieces, but the students. It is not like theatre camps where the camp puts on a production that everyone is a part of either. What Broadway Dreams Summer Intensive does is puts on a high level performance that incorporates Broadway work with original pieces. It also mixes the coaches performances in with the students. How often does a student or parent wonder if their child’s teacher is a master at their craft that his/her teaching? During the Broadway Dreams Concert you see the teachers in action working along side their students. This is a refreshing view because it is the connection the actors make to the music and to the students and all of them working together to put together a high caliber production. There is an old saying that if you want to get better, surround themselves with people better than them. This is obviously a philosophy Broadway Dreams teaches. The students saw and learned how detailed they must be by working side by side with their coaches.  For parents who are more sports fans, it is like being coached by professional athletes and then playing in a game with them.

The Philadelphia Creative Team is lead by Otis Sallid (The Wiz, Smoking Joe’s Café, Mariah Carey at the Beacon), and each number in the show is directed by or choreographed by the coaches that are brought in for the week. As you may recall from Part Two, all the coaches are Broadway performers.  Each acting group had multiple songs and routines that they were a part of and they all participated in an opening and closing number. I will not go through every number in the show but I do want to highlight some of the things I saw and my overall impression.

The Opening, directed by Otis Sallid, began with younger students singing about16 bars (standard audition amount of music) as individuals. They first began separately and then blended together (while still singing their songs) and ending with what seemed to be an affirmation of the mission of the Broadway Dreams Foundation. From there each ensemble performed their work, mixed in with the coaches and original work that members of Broadway Dreams were working or collaborating on. The different level groups were all mixed together so that you would constantly be seeing growth and evolution of the students in the program. First off you would see a cute young group of actors doing a piece and then you would see high school level students or interns performing pieces as if they were Broadway performers. Woven throughout the matinee performance was a group called Diva and this group broke up the performance with a number of wonderfully harmonized, powerful show stopping women trio songs. 

I mentioned that there were original pieces that were mixed into the Broadway pieces. Annette Tanner, Executive Director of Broadway Dreams, mentioned how important they felt it was to have new and experimental works performed as well. As an educator I found it refreshing for them to do this because it teaches the students that you don’t just take chances as young actors, you take chances as professional actors, choreographers, and directors. It also showed the process a piece takes in its infant stages to where it is a performance piece being premiered. I want to highlight the two Chet Baker pieces called “Idle Hands” and “Almost Blue”. Both pieces were astonishing visually and opposites of each other. “Idle Hands” was an ensemble piece with many moving parts, choreographed to beautiful smooth jazz tones. “Almost Blue” was a small trio choreographed in a sea of blue lighting. Both pieces were set in a modern, contemporary dance setting. 

One of the other parts of the concert that I enjoyed was the mash ups that a couple of groups had. The mash ups followed the theme the group was given. They were witty, insightful, relevant and seamless. The one that I absolutely adored was Housewives that was directed and choreographed by Christopher J. Hanke. It had the audience rolling and was a pure pleasure to see. There were also medleys of songs from iconic Broadway shows like West Side Story, Guys and Dolls and Grease involving bigger groups.

There was one thing that I have neglected to mention was this entire production was costumed and put together during the week. There are production meetings after all the students have auditioned and they are placed in their groups, the directors and choreographers choose their numbers and then the costume designer, Kelly La Vine, goes to work on each kid and each number.

What I really enjoyed watching was the energy on the stage that afternoon. Every child, teenager, and adult associated with the production just personified joy, hope, and love. They represented musical theatre in the best possible ways. The students represented the passion and drive to be better performers. The coaches represented how loving and giving true Broadway is and the Broadway Dreams staff showed the best in how to give the students, parents and (in this case) Philadelphia community a camp with honest answers, positive results and better performers.

So in summary of my three-part article about Broadway Dreams Foundation’s Summer Intensive, it is a brilliant program and the best summer program in the country. It is what Craig D’Amico and Stafford Arima said in their interview. It is a connection of a young actors with the professional actors. It is educating the students and having them immediately connect what they’ve with the pieces they’ve work on. The staff is top notch and has answers to all the questions actors and their families have about the business. Most importantly it helps grow the love of musical theatre in children and helps them take those lessons home to their programs. So parents who tweet, email, and message me, next time you want to ask me where to go, here is your definitive answer, Broadway Dreams Foundation.

Great thanks to Broadway Dreams Executive Director Annette Tanner, Artistic Director Stafford Arima, Creative and Educational Director Craig D’Amico and especially Marketing Director Hilary Miller for their time and allowing me to come and visit with the Philadelphia Creative Team and students.