Paper Mill Playhouse: Dedicated to Education
While many theaters are reducing their seasons, scaling back production costs, and considering other measures to weather the financial storm, the Paper Mill Playhouse has one area that’s growing: its educational programs and theater classes. Designed for ages “4-94,” says Lisa E. Cooney, Director of Education at the Millburn, NJ-based theater, “there’s something for everyone.”
On most weekdays, students file in after school, rushing to the theater’s black box performance space for classes in drama, dance, and voice. More than 400 students, including adults, are enrolled in classes from September to April, many which result in some sort of final performance. Additionally, the theater sponsors a Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory, an audition-only, five-week program designed for the more serious student. From here, many students enter professional theater and film, Laura Benati, most recently on Broadway in Gypsy; and Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada and Disney’s The Princess Diaries, among them.
The theater offers outreach to New Jersey public schools through two programs, said Cooney. The Rising Star Awards, now in its 14th year, recognizes the achievement of high school musical theater. Evaluators, with background in drama, attend high school musicals at 100 schools around the state, granting awards for everything from lighting to acting, costumes, make-up, singing and choreography. Scholarships are awarded to students who intend to pursue musical theater in college. With the Paper Mill’s “Adopt-A-School” program, the theater adopts four schools a year, beginning with a freshman class, and works with the same students their four years of high school. Schools are chosen who may not have an active theater program. The four stage, four year program exposes students to theater, to dramatic activities including playwriting and performing, and to critical analysis of plays performed by the Paper Mill. This program, said Cooney, is “fully funded” by foundations and corporate sponsors.
In addition to its education ventures, the Paper Mill makes deliberate efforts to produce at least one play a year that will appeal to schools. It runs 11 am matinees, to coordinate with school hours, and provides study guides for teachers. “It’s our mission to create new theater going audiences,” said Cooney.
The Paper Mill, now in its 70th season, offers 6 plays each year.#