New London Theatre is kicking off its Broadway Bound children's program for the summer with a production of Wizard of Oz. The program, which ties the arts and education, highlights children's talents while giving them a chance to grow.
“The whole idea of Broadway Bound is to specifically have shows targeted at kids,” said John Berlo, director of marketing and publicity.
Not only are the shows targeted at children, they are fully cast with children ages 16 and under. The upcoming play, which begins this coming weekend, is a spin-off of the original Wizard of Oz, and though you may recognize many of the melodies, most of the lyrics have been changed.
Sisters Cordelia and Olivia Martin have been in New London Theatre productions since the theater was at South Gwinnett High School. Olivia, 14, plays Glenda, while younger sister Cordelia plays the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz production.
About 70-80 children auditioned for the play, but only 48 were cast. Each part is double-cast in order to include more children.
“The auditions are all open auditions,” said Berlo, who is also the producer. "They don’t audition for specific parts.”
Berlo has been active in the leadership of New London Theatre for three years. He has always enjoyed the stage, as well as all other aspects of performing. More than 600 people have been involved in productions with New London Theater this past year.
Chris Comfort, who home-schools her children, is grateful for the program. “It’s given my boys time for socialization,” she said.
Quite a few of the junior actors and actresses are home-schooled and receive credit for the time they put into the production.
John VandenOever has four children, also home-schooled, in the current performance. Throughout the past three years, his children have participated in ten shows, including a Broadway Bound Christmas Carol.
“It gives them a chance to speak up and speak out,” VandenOever said. “It’s amazing how some of them are able to come up with these characterizations."
His son, Marshall, plays the Wiz, while his daughter, Madison, plays one of the Glendas. His twin daughters play the gatekeepers. Rehearsing can take up to six hours a week, over a period of four to five weeks for productions, but the children have a chance to gain independence and find out who they really are, the father added.
Emma Chakravarty, who plays one of the Dorothys, has been in theater productions since she was nine years old. Her first play, ironically, was also Wizard of Oz. At that time she was cast as a munchkin.
There are no drama programs in any of the elementary or middle schools in Snellville, apart from those that may be present in after-school programs. One teacher, Nancy Powell, is taking steps to change that.
“My youngest daughter, Ella, is in a class where her teacher, [Nancy Powell], is an actress,” said Tina Chakravarty, Emma’s mother. “She’s a wonderful actress and lets the kids act. It teaches them to express themselves with words and feelings.”
Powell teaches a multi-age classroom of kindergarten and first-grade students at Pharr Elementary. She was a professional actress and a member of Actors Equity. Although she did mostly theater, she also did a few commercials. She brings her passion for acting into the classroom and instills a love of theater in her young students.
“We do a lot of reader’s theater in the classroom,” Powell said. “I also do at least two performances a year and put on a play of some kind.”
Reader's theater gives students a chance to perform while they practice their reading. Powell also stresses the importance of getting in front of an audience and peers.
Of the New London Theatre, “it is a tremendous opportunity to have the experience, even if it’s just auditioning," Powell added. "I went to see Willy Wonka, and what they were able to pull out as far as confidence, poise and the performance level was incredible.”
Powell has been involved with New London for four years and has been in eight shows. Her own mother forced her to get involved in acting because she was so shy.
“The fact that they earmarked an entire department for kids – Broadway Bound – is incredible,” she said, adding that it was clear all the performers in Willy Wonka had gotten past their shyness.
If you or your child would like to be involved at New London Theatre, call (770) 559-1484, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by 2485 Main Street SW, near the Highway 124 and Highway 78 intersection.
The Wizard of Oz production shows weekends of May 14, 21 and June 4, with show times at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Purchase tickets at their website.