Real Experiences at Wharton's Broadway Camp
Since hitting the stage in 2008, Wharton Center's summer Broadway Camp, Take it From the Top, has had one main goal: to bring a rich Broadway experience to young people who are passionate about the arts.
Broadway veteran, Paul Canaan, is the camp director. He's been living and performing in New York for nearly 12 years, taking the stage in such shows as Legally Blonde, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, La Cage Aux Follies and Miss Saigon, to name a few. Paul loves the stage and is passionate about sharing his experience with the students.
"Growing up, I never knew anyone who wanted to be what I wanted be," says Paul. "So it was really important to me to be able to give back -- to provide an opportunity that I never had. I'm able to share my experience in a real way. I can tell students, 'If you have an audition in New York, this is what your life will look like.'"
"Hey, Let's Put on a Workshop"
Tony nominee and Legally Blonde star Laura Bell Bundy founded the program when she and Canaan visited the Wharton Center to do a concert. The two collaborated to put together a one-day program that became the model for Taking it From the Top.
Today the program includes a full week of pre-teen, teen, and advanced workshops and closes with a showcase on the last day. Participants are exposed to a variety of aspects of the theater world through a series of workshops taught by Broadway stars.
Canaan handpicks the freshest Broadway talent, such as "triple threat" Jessica Dillan who joined the camp after finishing Lion King the day before. Canaan looks for singers, dancers, choreographers and actors to come teach the workshops so students get a variety of fresh perspectives first-hand. He chooses actors for their talent, experience and enthusiasm for arts education.
Dana Brazil, Wharton Center Education Supervisor, does all the behind the scenes work that gets the program off and running. She is fueled by her love of Broadway and Broadway education.
An active member of the theater community, Dana serves as production manager for the program and works all year long making connections. "I go to schools all over the state to get the word out. My goal is to increase enrollment and interest and help the program grow," says Dana.
And grow it has. The Wharton Center program now has more than 120 participating students. What began as a one-day workshop, quickly turned into three days, and before they knew it, they were doing a week-long intensive program. This year they've added two more cities with workshops being held in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. "We get kids from all over," says Dana. "We have lots of commuters."
Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance
Rachael Cupples is one such student; she is a high school senior and drives every day from Brighton, Mich. This is her second tour with the camp, but it's her first time in the advanced class. "Paul is so great," says Rachael, brimming with excitement. "He gets really involved with every single group and doesn't leave anyone feeling left out."
The family atmosphere is another big draw for Rachael who loves that everyone is always welcoming and friendly from the first day. She points to fellow student Michal Kolaczkowski who is sitting next to her. "This kid here," she says, grinning, "I just met him on Monday, and we're best friends already. You just connect with people because you're all in love with theater, so you're all in love with each other."
Michal is a Michigan State University student and camp newbie. It's his first year attending the camp, but he echoes Rachael's enthusiasm. "It's so awesome to come here and work with people who are living our dream and placing all this knowledge in our laps. I mean, on the first day we got to learn the original choreography from Catch Me if You Can, which just recently opened on Broadway. It's an incredible opportunity."
In addition to learning and perfecting skills, the advanced class prepares students for the Broadway experience, offering a professional development component that can help them get jobs. "As a college student, it's a great networking opportunity," says Michal. "We're surrounded by all of these professionals from New York who teach us how to fully invest our body, our mind, our emotions everything that we need to experience as we perform."
In the end it is clear; all of the camp participants are there for the love of the art. "I do this for the same reason anybody does the arts, for the love of it and the passion for it," says Paul. And he loves igniting that passion in his students. Seeing students confront their fears and express themselves is one of the rewards for Paul. "Their passion is recognized when they create," says Paul. "I love seeing them make the journey and watching them grow."
To participate in next year's camp or get more information visit the Wharton Center online.
All Photos - Khalid Ibrahim