Recently, students from Carpe Artista in Smyrna opened for The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,000. For many of the participants, it was their first time to the Big Apple. While there, they got to learn about theatrical performance from pros, as well as see some great theater, visit lots of the city and enjoy some great food.
“Our students got to experience everything New York City (NYC) has to offer,” said program coordinator Dr. Joanne O’Kain. “We ate at some delicious restaurants…We saw several Broadway shows, including “Into the Woods,” “Beetlejuice,” and “MJ the Musical”. We also …went to the Museum of Broadway, Central Park, Rise NY, and Ground Zero…We really enjoyed the magic of Christmastime in the city by shopping in Christmas markets, seeing the tree in Rockefeller Plaza, and watching the New Year’s Eve Ball being prepared on the streets of Times Square.”
The overall purpose of the trip was to allow some of Carpe Artista’s most serious theater students to learn what it takes to succeed in professional musical theater. With the help of Tim Dolan at Broadway Up Close, they were treated to a tour of the oldest Broadway theater, the Hudson Theater. He also helped to arrange classes with professional actors, music directors, and dance captains at the famous Pearl studios. These classes helped the students fine tune their craft.
Broadway Up Close is a theater tour and workshop company that employs working actors, stage managers, dancers and technical personnel as teachers and tour guides for those interested in an intense plunge into the world of Broadway.
“The students got to have professional feedback to prepare them for future real-world experiences as they audition and pursue a career in musical theater,” explained O’Kain. “They learned to come out of their comfort zones as they performed for the largest audience of their young lives at Radio City. They also learned dance styles they weren’t familiar with for their mock auditions.”
Lots of life lessons came out of the trip, too. They got to experience first-hand the daily life of professional performers and stage managers during rehearsals. They learned about how to navigate one of the busiest cities in the world. And they were able to overcome fears of being judged and learned how to be more confident in their abilities.
“We wanted our students to get the full Broadway experience from attending shows to participating in master classes and mock Broadway auditions facilitated by Broadway professionals,” explained O’Kane.
The students worked very hard in rehearsals throughout the fall semester to prepare after school. They learn two pieces for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, as well as preparing solos for their mock Broadway auditions and learning dance combinations to broaden their repertoire. During a faux audition, one of the students even brought the adjudicator to tears with his audition song.
“He really connected with the song,” said O’Kane. “He was able to relate it to his own life and how it helped him get through some tough times. Moments like that made all the long hours of planning and practicing worth it.”
Participating students also got to meet some Broadway professionals. Myles Frost, a Tony Award Winner for portraying Michael Jackson in MJ The Musical, took pictures with the students and signed their Playbills. The students also got to meet most of the rest of the cast of MJ and a Rockette. One of the chaperones met Hugh Jackman.
O’Kain, with the support of Carpe Artista staff, planned the entire trip. She travels to NYC often to learn more about directing students, college and audition opportunities, and to see shows and friends. She has taken several students to NYC in the past for workshops, but she wanted this group of students to experience workshops that were specifically designed for them.
“I worked with Tim Dolan of Broadway Up Close to plan tours and classes that fit the needs of our students,” explained O’Kane. “He was able to get a cast member or staff member of each show we watched to teach us dance, vocals, and audition skills. For the rest, I picked my favorite shows, restaurants, and events I thought most students and chaperones would love. There were 16 students – 15 were performers and one was a technical theater student. Then we had two Carpe Artista Staff members and 13 chaperones.”
Carpe Artista provides artistic training, leadership development and community engagement opportunities for artists in Smyrna, North Rutherford County, and surrounding areas. They create and manage a wide range of art related classes, events, performances and camps for local residents of all ages, interests and skill levels.
Watching the experience through the student’s lives was what made the trip special for O’Kane. She thought it was fantastic and sweet to see the students light up and love the city. They were so excited to see and do all of the things they got to do.
Plus, the trip was a huge success. After rave reviews from the Radio City Music Hall Conductor for their work on the Christmas Spectacular, Carpe Arista has been asked to return and perform as the opening act for The Rockettes next Christmas.
“This is definitely going to happen again,” said O’Kane.