It wasn’t hard to track down the Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY studio where students were busy rehearsing the school’s main-stage production. All one had to do was follow the sounds of singing and piano music.
Even the hallways were filled with noise, students running lines, others practicing or learning choreography, some sewing costumes all the clues that an energetic theatre class was preparing an ambitious new show that opens for a New York City audience April 22.
New material added
The BMCC Theatre Department spent Spring Break rehearsing the school's main stage production, A Fairy Tale Project, which runs April 22 through April 26 in Theatre 2 on the main campus.
The comedic-musical is a longer, brand new version of a show written by Labyrinth Theatre Company member Webb Wilcoxen that was originally work-shopped at the Public Theatre around a decade ago.
“A lot of times, we have shows such as A Doll's House or The Misanthrope, but I also like to introduce the students to new works,” said Speech Communication and Theatre Arts professor Lori Kee who is directing the show.
Kee, who acts and directs professionally as well, says much of the theatre getting produced in New York City’s thriving theatre business these days is new, so there’s added practical value in introducing students to fresh material.
BMCC offers students experience for real world
BMCC offers the only performance-based theatre major at a community college in New York State. Concentrations include acting, technical theatre, and theatre history. And that makes total sense, considering the college sits in the heart of the nation’s most thriving theatre city.
The city’s Broadway industry contributed $11.9 billion to the economy of New York City and supported 87,000 jobs during the 2012-2013 Broadway season according to The Broadway League, a national trade association for the industry.
A former Rockette assistant directs
For this production, the theatre department also recruited BMCC alum and current City College student Ann Cooley to join Kee as assistant director and choreographer.
“I came to BMCC because I had to finish up my math credits,” said Cooley with a smile.
She says she never was the most amazing mathematician in high school and she figured she could get up to speed with her math skills here.
A pretty full career in show business
Before college, Ann Cooley has lived a pretty full career as a New York City dancer, director and choreographer. She was a member as well as a line captain of the world-famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. In addition to her double major in studio art and theatre at City College, Cooley still directs and choreographs professionally.
She spent two semesters at BMCC after her playwright husband, who also works for the United States Army public relations department, encouraged her to go back to school and get a degree.
“I just came to BMCC thinking, I’d get that math credit out of the way, then, maybe end up at Hunter or City College,” she said.
Coming back to school
But one day Cooley wandered into the BMCC Theatre Department. There, she met the department’s deputy chair, Professor Katherine Kavanagh. It turns out, Cooley dance captain for Kavanagh’s niece in a production of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
Kavanagh and Cooley struck up more conversations and soon enough, Cooley decided to check out some of college's theatre classes. She says she absolutely fell in love with everyone in the Theatre Department.
"I was just so amazed and happy at what they could do for me, especially coming into school as a little bit older than the kids that are here today, no one made me feel like I was to old, that I couldn't do something, it was amazing," said Cooley.
She said BMCC students are getting a real hands-on immersive experience that they’ll be able to take and apply to the real world of theatre. The faculty at BMCC truly care about the students, Cooley says. During her time as a BMCC student, one of her teachers was The Fairy Tale Project director, Lori Kee.
“This play for example, we’re doing it the same way I’ve rehearsed a Broadway show getting ready for a national tour. We’re not doing anything differently, it’s like a giant, real production,” she said of the BMCC production of Fairy Tale Project.
At City College, Cooley, who has a strong musical theatre background, says she is spending time learning the classics and more text analysis and a focus on the academic knowledge.
BMCC offers four theatre practicums
Current student and theatre major, freshman Lauren Robertson says one of the great things about BMCC’s theatre program is that it offers four practicums. Students are required to take two of those.
“One involves acting, so this is my first practicum, I’m learning all the mechanics and linguistics of being an actor, my voice, my movement, my eye contact and learning lines” said Robertson.
Next semester, she hopes to be in costume practicum.
Why leave NYC to study theatre?
Theatre major Dennis O'Brien said he had friends who had left New York City and studied theatre abroad in places like London or Moscow.
But, he said his experience thus far at BMCC had reminded him that New York is the world’s dominant theatre town.
“In five years, I’d like to have my degree and be working in the theatre in some capacity. This whole process has reminded me how much I want to be doing this with my life,” said Obrien
As for opening night, he said he’s “pumped.”
“I’ve put so much time into it, my energy is boiling over,” he said.
A Fairy Tale Project opens April 22 through April 26 at 7 PM nightly with an additional 2 PM matinee April 22.