By Ali Hibbs
SCHENECTADY — For the first time since Proctors began offering its series of educational performance camps for youth, the theater is producing a full-length stage musical featuring more than 30 teenagers and young adults between the ages of 14 and 20—under the direction of Broadway-accredited talent—following a four-week intensive course in which the students were responsible for all aspects of the production.
“He asked me if I liked children,” said actor/producer/director Steven Yuhasz of Proctors CEO Philip Morris. He laughed. “And, I said ‘it depends.’” Morris told Yuhasz that Proctors wanted to try something new with its educational programming and was looking for someone to help conceive and execute a full stage production with young students. “I know they interviewed a couple of people,” he said, before affectionately admonishing a member of the ensemble for her enthusiastic drumming on a nearby seat as a few of her cast mates rehearsed on the theater’s Main Stage. After traveling between New York City and the Capital District for 20 years, Yuhasz said that he retired last year and had been considering transitioning into teaching theater. “And this opportunity came up,” he said. “I said, I think it’s a great opportunity, but I don’t want to do children’s theater. What I want to do, and what I can bring to the table, is to do a professional production.” As it turned out, that’s exactly what the program was looking for.
After reviewing more than 20 plays, Yuhasz chose “All Shook Up” because he wanted to produce a show
with a big cast so that he could offer the experience to a larger number of students. “All Shook Up,” he said, has ten major roles and 20 members in an ensemble cast. The premise of the musical, he explained, is essentially Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” meets the ’80s movie “Footloose,” featuring Elvis tunes. “It’s a jukebox musical,” he said, comparing it to “Jersey Boys” and “Mama Mia.”
“It’s interesting,” said Yuhasz, glancing over his shoulder at the chastened drummer and another member of the ensemble cast. “They’re listening to me right now.” He smiled and continued, “How can I say this? I’ve worked with some of the best people in the industry and the process doesn’t change.” While his students may not have the history or background of some of his more accomplished colleagues, he said, “they come with the energy and the excitement and the focus. And, it’s part of my responsibility to get all of these pieces and bring them together as one.”
Yuhasz said that he worked closely with his choreographer and musical director to bring the show together in just four short weeks. “What we do,” he said, “is we find the best in each of them and make it cohesive. When the audience comes to see the show, they’re going to see the best of what each of these kids can do.”
Ensemble cast member Louis Blair, 16, said that he has taken other classes through Proctors before, including the Matilda Master Class last December. “But there’s really nothing like doing a show at this level,” he said. “I tell people that I’m doing a show this summer and they’re like, ‘Where?’ And, I’m like, ‘Proctors.’ And they’re like, “What?’”
“Just coming into the theater on the first day,” said 17-year-old Anna Fernandez, who plays Miss Sandra, the libidinous caretaker of a fictional Midwestern town museum who mistakes a girl for a boy. “The first song that we did, you kind of suddenly realize, ‘Oh, this is happening now!’ And it’s cool to hear everyone for the first time because you don’t really know who you’re working with or what it’s going to sound like together—and we have a group that’s really talented.”
“It’s a very male-dominated field,” said 17-year-old Maya Pomazal-Flanders, a renaissance member of the all-female backstage crew. “When I came in and saw an all-girl production crew, that made me really happy.” Pomazal-Flanders, who has been involved with community theatre for three years, said that while she signed up to work on several different technical aspects of the production, she has since developed a preference for lighting design. “It’s been an amazing experience getting to work on Proctors Main Stage,” she said
“I love when we’re out somewhere and one of us will hear something and then suddenly we’re all just singing along,” said Blair. “It’s crazy.”
“It’s a plague,” said a grinning Tahya Hurn, a 15-year-old member of the ensemble cast and occasional drummer of chairs. “I love performing. It may be a little work, but I can handle it. So I auditioned with all my might, and I got in.”
“It was just the other day that everything clicked,” said Yuhasz of his youthful cast and crew. “There’s that moment when everything starts to work. Every rehearsal we have, I push them to another level. And they push themselves. These kids really care. I ask them for more and they give it–and that’s what being a professional is.”
In addition to working with seasoned professionals including Yuhasz, students attending the program are also provided with vocal coaching, a professional headshot, makeup and wardrobe consultation, resume review and development along with audition preparation, among other things. “We’re getting so much education,” said Blair. “And I just love being with everybody and knowing that, in two weeks, it’s real. We’re going to be doing a show; and it’s very professional compared to school shows or community theater. It’s up ten more notches and it’s real.”
Performances of “All Shook Up” will take place at Proctors Main Stage on Friday, August 5 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, August 6, at 2 and 7 p.m.