Five. Six. 5-6-7-8… On cue, the music starts and 22 energetic high school students begin to dance with a real Broadway star.
The Orpheum Memphis Broadway 101 Master Class Series is just one of many educational opportunities offered at the Halloran Centre For Performing Arts & Education. For the past five years, approximately 600 kids from grades 7 to 12 have sung and danced their way through the program, which now takes place in the new education center.
“The classes are a way to awaken the love of theater in the kids,” says Jennifer Douberly, field trips and classes manager for the Halloran Centre. “You feel more connected to the show when you meet the actual performer.”
On this night, students are learning the choreography to “Magic To Do,” the opening song in the musical, Pippin. Bradley Benjamin, who plays Catherine in the musical, leads the way.
The teens, many of whom have studied dance locally, move in sync with Benjamin’s instructions. Although there is a lot of laughter and a few missteps along the way, they soon have the routine down pat and are moving across the room with, if not ease, at least fun and excitement.
“I’m not looking for perfect steps,” Benjamin reminds the kids. “Bring spirit and energy to your movement!”
The original Pippin was choreographed and directed by Bob Fossey. So the students get to practice their Fossey walk and calypso runs. Although some have never heard of the famous choreographer, they quickly perk up when they learn that the choreography of Michael Jackson and Beyonce’s are both heavily Fossey-inspired.
“It’s an opportunity to teach history to the younger generation. I get to introduce them to another world,” says Benjamin.
Douberly says when scheduling the itinerary for the Orpheum summer camps, they choose one song from each of the upcoming Broadway musicals to help generate excitement for the master classes.
Briarcrest Christian School students Olivia Cheng, 11, and her brother, Benjamin, 13, have attended many master classes. Both students, along with older sister Megan, hope for careers in the performing arts.
“It’s exciting to learn parts of the show here, and then to see it on stage that night,” says Benjamin, who recently played Billy in Playhouse’s Billy Elliott the Musical.
“The choreography pushes you to learn this really hard dance in a short time,” adds Olivia. “Just like a professional performer.”
Seventeen-year-old Madison Alexander has been attending master classes for six years. Although her dream of performing one day on Broadway is shared by many young girls, she would also like to teach musical theater to special needs students. Alexander is active with Christian Brother’s University’s musical theater program and participates on the Orpheum’s STAR Council.
The STAR (Students Take A Role) Council is a student advisory board that gives local teens the opportunity to help plan Orpheum events, including Family Series shows and the High School Musical Theater Awards. This year’s STAR Council is made up of 40 students. The application process takes place each May.
“It’s a great opportunity to see the ins and outs of a large theatre,” says Douberly. As for participating in master classes?
“It is a one-on-one experience with actors who have been where we young actors are, and they give us true insight into the theatre business,” says Alexander. “One of the most vital things I've learned from the master classes is that we are all actors; whether we are singing or dancing, we are always playing a major role in the art of musical theatre.”
Broadway 101 Master Class Series
Thursday, January 14
A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder
Thursday, February 11
Bullets Over Broadway
Thursday May 19
Registration: $60. Tuition includes the master class (4 p.m.), dinner, and a ticket to the show. • For details, 529-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org