In March, 1991, Ted and I sat in the living room of my high school chum, Judge James Hely, and I announced that Jenny Logus, owner and dance instructor at Westfield School of Dance and I were going to form a youth theatre organization whose summer program would be free to all participants called the Westfield Young Artists’ Cooperative Theatre (WYACT). This organization, now called New Jersey Youth theatre (NJYT) would provide classes during the winter months and a tuition-free summer program for young people who wanted to enter the professional theatre arena. James discouraged me because he said there was already an abundance of this type of kids’ program. Twenty-six and a half years later, to date, no NJYT summer participant has ever been charged a summer program fee.
Now, sadly, bittersweetly, the time has come for New Jersey Youth Theatre to close its doors. We are so grateful for having worked with such great theatres, producers, designers, stage managers, crew, musicians, music directors, young actors, and technicians. We have been so lucky.
We would now like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who contributed, supported, cheered on, and participated in WYACT/NJYT during the past quarter century:
* Jenny Logus – who believed in our dream, helped us get started, and made us laugh during the most stressful of times.
*Gene Sower – who designed, developed, and kept up NJYT’s website, constantly helping NJYT to reach out to the young, aspiring performers of New Jersey.
*The NJYT Board members over the years, in particular NJYT’s last Board members, Barry Roy, Dr. Sue Jane Grosso, Peter Skolnik, Marlene Kalaigian, and Mark Ciasco who all stuck it out in spite of adversity, facing a world where audiences would prefer to stay home and watch Net Flix; they were determined.
*Steve and Cat Tolve, Michael Sinclair, and Audio Inc. who provided us with rehearsal space, studios for class, audio design and equipment, and undying support since 1999
*John Prignano at Music Theatre International, who, for 26 summers, gave NJYT the best royalty breaks he could muster so NJYT could continue.
*NJYT’s funders: In particular the Westfield Foundation, the Blanche and Irving Lurie Foundation, the Lillian P. Schenck Foundation, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and, most of all, Wendy Liscow and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, who not only offered financial support, but unmatched guidance and friendship.
*The theatres: the Algonquin (Fran and Jack Drew, Bill Whitefield), the Bickford (Eric Hafen), Centenary Stage (Carl Wallnau), the Kasser, the Wharton Institute for Performing Arts (Susan Peterson, Karen Deschere), Kean University (Holly Logue), and the New Jersey performing Arts Center (NJPAC) with special recognition to Sanaz Hojreh and Phillip Thomas for opening the door at NJPAC and believing in the vision of professional-level youth theatre. The memories we share and friendships we made will last for all of our lives. “West Side Story,” “1776,” “Carousel,” to name a few, and “Ragtime” and “Sweeney Todd,” named by critic Peter Filicia as best revival musicals in New Jersey 2006 and 2009 respectively – all unforgettable experiences. Thanks to all those at these venues who took a chance and networked with NJYT to produce beautiful, artistic productions.
*The NJYT staffs: designers, crews, technicians, stage managers, music directors, company managers, musicians – everyone who pulled together to “make the magic.” In particular, the talented artists who became a family to us by being a part of our “team” for years at a time: Camille DiLorenzo (props and company manager), Ilene Greenbaum (Music Director) Michael Allen (Production Stage Manager), Danielle and Gonzalo Valencia Music Director and Actress/Confidante, Jack Bender, my gifted writing partner, music director, multi-talented composer and musician, and, closest to me, Sherry Alban, whose choreography made the shows sparkle and without whom these shows would not have been so special. We worked side-by-side for 19 years; she showed me what a best friend should be.
*The young actors and actresses who spent long summer hours in intense rehearsals, who grew not only as performers, but as human beings learning about teamwork, dedication and commitment.
*The students who took class and realized the importance of learning technique and the art of listening and reacting. All these kids learned from us and we definitely learned so much from them. Many have grown up and entered the theatre profession on Broadway, in regional theatre, and in film. But most important to me, many have decided to become teachers. And thank you to all NJYT teachers for the past 26 years including a heartfelt thank you to James Campodonico, NJYT’s school music director who gave his whole heart to the students by going beyond the bounds of dedication for the past 14 years.
*The audiences who supported NJYT, the young actors and the NJYT companies each year. Without them, we would not have lasted one minute.
We are so grateful to and for all of you. NJYT has filled the lives of Ted and me and, even in the most stressful of times, we were honored and blessed to do something we absolutely loved. We wish all of you the best in life and wish to offer two last words of advice to all young performers: 1) TAKE CLASS! Don’t be fooled by the one-in-a-millionth winner on America’s Got Talent. You need to learn “technique,” whether it be for singing, acting, or dancing. When you are hired to do 8 performances a week and just cannot “pull out” that one last Sunday matinee, it’s “technique” that will get you through. Don’t be lazy! Make time for class! 2) Have interests other than theatre. While waiting for the agent to call or whether or not you’re going to get a callback, get a job, take a class in something unique, become a well-rounded person. Live life every minute.
Be kind to each other, listen to each other, and don’t be so self-involved that you miss what is going on around you. Remember, you are only as good as the actors on stage with you.
When you think of me, remember: Diction! Diction! Diction! Who are you? Where are you?/What is the time period? (Circumstances). What is your goal in the scene? What stands in the way of achieving that goal? What Happened 15 minutes before the song/scene? Do what the character. Would do, not what the character feels. The emotion comes through the action.
“When you walk through a storm, keep your chin up high,
And don’t be afraid of the dark…….
….you all know the rest…..
Walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone.
Thank you all for going on this journey with us. We love you all. And remember, if you ever need Ted and me, we are only a phone call away.
God Bless you,
Cynthia Meryl and Ted Agress
Til we meet again………..