Curtain Rises at Papermill Playhouse Summer Conservatory

A look at a summer theater program from one of the participants.

Summer may be here but the work has just begun for students at the Papermill Playhouse Summer Musical Theater Conservatory. This year, six Westfield students were accepted into the intensive, five-week musical theater training program held on the campus of Montclair State University.

Westfield residents Steven Del Col, Christopher Morrissey, Rebecca Skowron, Isabelle Smelkinson and Peter Surace were accepted into the program through a competitive audition process in February. Catalina Gaglioti, also of Westfield, is participating in the program through a scholarship that she received for garnering a Best Leading Actress nomination at Papermill's annual Rising Star Awards. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing our experiences with you.

The Papermill Playhouse Summer Musical Theater Conservatory is not what one would call the "typical" theater camp. For five weeks, students are challenged by an array of different classes ranging from musical theater and acting to dance and monologues. All of this instruction is provided by a top-notch faculty of theater professionals. In addition to core classes, students sample numerous elective courses, master classes, and private voice lessons.

Most notably, conservatory members will participate in the unique courses, "Callback Advantage" and "Rock the Audition". "Callback Advantage" will strengthen performers' ability to learn new material quickly and how to use this material to "win" the role. "Rock the Audition", created and taught by professional actress, Sheri Sanders, guides students on everything from what to wear to what to sing at a rock musical audition. Ms. Sanders' master class has quickly established itself as one of the most popular workshops for actors in New York City.

Only augmenting the intensity of the program is the first week's grueling audition process.

While the first week is designed to orient students to their classes, teachers and peers, auditions also take place for the culminating event of the conservatory: the New Voices concert on the Papermill Playhouse mainstage. Students are asked to sing two contrasting songs for the vocal audition and are taught up to three combinations for the dance component of the audition. Following the first round of auditions, students are called back for different selections from the concert. Ultimately, these auditions help inform the faculty on how to create and shape the New Voices concert. While the auditions are definitely nerve-wracking and intimidating, they are a fantastic educational opportunity.

Essentially, the audition process at the program is not much different from the same process that professional actors experience in New York. After all, if professionalism is the goal of Conservatory participants, the program certainly makes every effort to treat the students like professionals.


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