Schenectady County

Theater camps: At Proctors, students learn backstage jobs during musical

Thea Dimin and Kayla Petersen aren’t looking for a career on stage. They won’t require any makeup ar
Choreographer Freddy Ramirez, right, works with students during a recent rehearsal for "All Shook Up" at Proctors.
Choreographer Freddy Ramirez, right, works with students during a recent rehearsal for "All Shook Up" at Proctors.

Thea Dimin and Kayla Petersen aren’t looking for a career on stage. They won’t require any makeup artists, curtain calls or adoring fans.

They do, however, want a career in the theater, and at this summer’s Broadway Camp at Proctors, they’re learning exactly how that could all come to pass.

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“Everybody here is really cool, and it’s great to meet all these people who are really in the business,” said Dimin, an Averill Park resident and a junior at Tech Valley High School in Albany. “I want to know what the business world is really like, and learn how these people got where they are. And I also get time to spend in this awesome theater where I’ve seen some of my favorite shows.”

Dimin is training to become a sound technician, and Petersen, a senior at Schenectady in the fall, is learning how to be a stage manager and eventually wants to own and operate her own theater.

“I don’t think anybody comes out of college and says, ‘well, now I want to run a theater,’ ” Petersen said. “I know running my own theater is down the road a ways. But I’m going to take arts administration classes in college, and I’m going to learn everything I can about the business. What I’m learning here this summer is really going to help me.”

Petersen will be immersed in the Blue Roses Theatre group this fall at the John Sayles School of Fine Arts at Schenectady High School. That’s where Grace Janiszewski, recently named education director at Proctors, got her start in the theater world.

Preparing for a life

“We’re helping the students get prepared for a life in the theater,” said Janiszewski, who graduated from Schenectady High in 2010 and from Fairfield University in 2014. “We’re letting them know that the arts as a career is available to them, and it really does take a village. It’s not just actors. We have over 120 kids working in all aspects of the theater, including house management to operations director. Acting might not be their path, but there are several things you can do in administration and backstage. There’s a lot of good opportunities.”

At Proctors Broadway Camp this summer, students have the opportunity to work with director Steve Yuhasz and choreographer Freddy Ramirez on a full production of the musical “All Shook Up.” There will be three performances, beginning Friday at 7 p.m., followed by two shows on Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Yuhasz has lived in Berne for more than 20 years while continuing to work in New York City in mostly off-Broadway projects. Ramirez, meanwhile, who was in the Broadway ensemble in the revival of “Grease” in 2007, is a Bronx native who recently moved to Waterford with his wife and small child.

“I love to teach, and I love to share my experience in the theater,” said Yuhasz, whose Broadway credits include small roles in “Peter Pan’ with Sandy Duncan in 1981 and “Zorba” with Anthony Quinn in 1984.

“I looked at about 20 musicals, and I thought this jukebox musical, ‘All Shook Up,’ worked the best for us. We’re trying to get as many kids on stage as possible, and it’s a great story by Joe DiPietro, who did ‘Memphis’ and ‘Nice Work if You Can Get it.’ He very cleverly took the plot of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ and set it in the Kennedy years.”

Ramirez, a Bronx native, has worked as a choreographer at a number of Capital Region venues in the past few years, including Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. The prospect of working with teenagers is not a problem.

“It does take a bit more energy than working with professionals, because you might have to take more time to explain things,” he said. “These kids don’t have the dictionary yet for movement, style and technique, but my job as a choreographer is to still make them look good.”

Many career paths

One thing Ramirez remembers to tell his students is that there are all kinds of jobs in the theater.

“I was very lucky to have compassionate teachers, and I would never pull aside a 14-year-old and tell them they couldn’t make it,” he said. “I would never do that. But I might tell them there are other paths they can take. Hey, you might want to try lighting, costuming or stage managing. Everybody should do that anyway, just to learn more about the business, and if you do that you might find something you’re better suited for.”

The cast for “All Shook Up” earned a spot at this summer’s Broadway Camp by auditioning back in March. Ben Hitrick, a senior at Broadalbin-Perth in the fall, plays the lead character, Elvis Presley. Maddie Montgomery, soon to be a freshman at Niskayuna, plays Natalie.

“I’m working with about 30 kids and I think half of them are real serious about pursuing the theater as a career,” said Yuhasz. “The others realize the importance of being in a production like this. They know it helps with self-esteem and team building. And I’m approaching it like I would with any professional theater. It’s just a matter of learning how fast the kids can absorb the material, and then we move on.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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