(cover photo: Marc Tumminelli and Taylor Louderman)
“Un-Block The Music” has been making it a point to report on all kinds of theater because,as Tony-winning Producer Ken Davenport told me, theater is cool again! Stage-loving kids have always existed, but shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen have encouraged even more kids to want to perform on “The Great White Way”. Marc Tumminelli and Broadway Workshop are way ahead of the curve in terms of helping them get there.
On a miserably rainy day in NYC, I went to FIKA on the West Side for coffee and to talk to Marc about the program. I know that Marc played Eugene in Biloxi Blues and I can’t help but picture it. There, I sat down with always hilarious Marc to talk about where he came from and why he started this program. He cheered up the gloomy day. As an actor himself, Marc says, “acting is the only career a kid can actually have. You can’t be a kid lawyer or a kid doctor. Theater kids are serious.”
Before creating Broadway Workshop in 2008, Marc was Resident Director at Random Farms Kids Theater, another fabulous program in Westchester County, NY, (to be profiled by Un-Block The Music at a later date). What makes Broadway Workshop different was Marc’s mindset when starting up the program. While he was a successful actor working in several regional productions around the country, he decided that directing was really what he wanted to do, and he did direct at Random Farms. When he had the idea to start Broadway Workshop, it was not because he was an out of work actor. That, in my opinion, is what makes this program different. He loves what he does, and is always in the here and now.
“Our students not only learn about and experience all aspects of the theater through our workshops, industry showcases, private and small group coaching, but they also gain skills in the areas of communication, self-confidence, and teamwork.” In addition to classes, Broadway Workshop always does an annual mainstage production and a junior mainstage production in an off-Broadway theater. Being a theater performer is a skill set to be learned.
Those who audition for the mainstages need to bring 16 or 32 bars of a musical theater song or pop song, a recent photo and a resume. That’s not to say Marc expects kids to be professional actors, it is just part of the training. “Kids need to do the work. They need to understand the audition process and how to pick songs”. Casting directors do not want to hear “Popular” or “I Dreamed A Dream.”
Casting Directors from Tara Rubin Casting as well as Telsey + Co Casting have been part of Broadway Workshop as well, although that part of the program has been toned down a bit. Marc says, he is not “selling the dream”. He wants the students to get everything they can out of the programs without focusing solely on being cast on Broadway. “We have had over 65 students on Broadway over the last decade! That will happen if kids are working hard in class, so I don’t feel I need to push it. The next Evan Hansen, Andrew Feldman, has done a ton of our programs. One of the three Chers in The Cher Show, Micaela Dimond, was in our production of Cabaret two years ago.”
Personally, I have seen several of Broadway Workshop’s productions including Bring It On, Cabaret and Pippin; all Broadway quality. This year’s mainstage auditions will be in January. The show is Sister Act. The junior mainstage is Shrek The Musical, Jr. Go to the website for audition information (http://www.broadwayworkshop.com/program/main-stage-production/).
Photo, Sweet Charity Rehearsal
If you have ever seen Cabaret, Pippin or Sweet Charity, you may be wondering how Marc can pull these slightly risque shows off with high school students. “Doing these shows with high school students is sometimes very hard and maybe even a questionable choice, but these kids want to be challenged and do things they cannot do at their high school. There is nothing wrong with The Music Man, I am just not going to do it at Broadway Workshop. We attract the best kids in the tri-state area and I have to create the most special experience for them!”
As for special experiences, what could possibly excite kids more than seeing their idols close up? Actually, working with them! Broadway stars like Sierra Boggess, Jonathan Groff, Laura Benanti, Annaleigh Ashford, Jeremy Jordan, Christy Altomare, Cynthia Erivo, Ben Platt and Jessie Mueller have offered their expertise more than once. Cassie Levy, from Broadway’s Frozen, Ethan Slater from SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical and Jessie Mueller from Beautiful, will be teaching master classes in December. What???? How???? If you’ve spoken with with Marc, you really wouldn’t be surprised; aggressive in a personable, sweet way. Marc told me about the first workshop he ever offered. It was with Laura Bell Bundy who was starring in Legally Blonde at the time. “I actually went through Laura’s mom who set it up and made that first connection. That was just the beginning.”
Tony nominee Taylor Louderman, star of Mean Girls, Kinky Boots, and Bring It On, told “Un-Block The Music, “I absolutely love teaching with Broadway Workshop! The kids are so respectful and eager to learn, and Broadway Workshop is extremely organized and professional. It enables me to come in and focus on the kids and sharing as much as I can with them about this intense craft and business!”
As is the case with any high-quality program, especially in New York, there is tuition involved. It’s expensive to rent out theaters for these mainstage productions, but that’s how the idea for Project Broadway came about. It is the 501c3 nonprofit partner program of Broadway Workshop. The group raises money so that kids who can’t afford tuition can apply for partial or full scholarships. This is so very important as public schools continue to cut arts programs. What makes this fund-raising different, however, is that it is not all on the parents as it is with many theater groups. Project Broadway has a number of student ambassadors, who think of ways to raise money and to create awareness of the program. Project Broadway is also offering free musical theater programming to student groups at St Hope Academy, Hunts Point Alliance, and Harlem Grown.
Honestly, there is more, but I think I will not only let Broadway Workshop’s website speak for itself, but here is a link where you can see kids and teachers talking about the programs.