'Launching' kids to the next level

Jennifer Hughes and Sam Salamone were hired at Ballston Spa Middle School at the same time about 10 years ago, and when Salamone mentioned to her that he'd like to start a drama club, she offered to lend a hand.

He had been involved in theatre, so I knew that he knew 'what; to do, so I offered to help him, said Hughes.

There had been a successful theatre program at the middle school before, but at least a few years passed without one before Launching Pad was created.

"The name Launching Pad was coined by Fran DelSignore, the chorus teacher and fine arts coordinator hired a little after Sam and me," said Hughes. "We always thought of the middle school program as a feeder program for the already successful high school troupe. The middle school literally became a launching pad for the theatre program in the high school."

Hughes said as the years passed, Launching Pad grew (going from a cast of 30 to the current group of 75, and a set crew of 10 to one of 75) and became more distinguished, known for its quality productions.

"Although many students get their start in the theatre by participating in Launching Pad, the quality of the performances are by no means undeveloped or simple. The program is designed to teach students and foster their individual talents," said Hughes.

Joseph Shaver joined Launching Pad eight years ago and is currently in the process of directing his seventh show with the troupe, "Beauty and the Beast" which will debut in January. He said the shows are high quality, especially for middle schoolers who may have no previous acting experience, and that standard encourages students to give it their all.

"We get as professional as we can. We have a very experienced tech director who does sound; he's been doing it his whole life at places like the Egg and Proctors. The set designer and lighting designer works at SUNY Albany and does Broadway-style sets," said Shaver. "We expect a lot for a middle school production."

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