Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thank You, Team Expedition!

This past weekend, Expedition opened at the Fourth Street Theatre to sold-out crowds. In just two weeks, our cast and crew put together an extraordinary production that gave audiences a sneak peek at the talent that they'll most likely be seeing on Broadway in a few years. Every summer, I volunteer for front-of-house duties, so that I can meet the audiences that make our work possible (especially the family members who raised, nurtured, and encouraged such outstanding young artists). What I enjoy the most about working in the lobby are the things that you hear from audience members. For instance:

"I wish there had been a program like this when I was in high school!"

"I've seen a lot of off-Broadway shows by adults that are nowhere near this good."

"As far as I know, there's no other program like this in the world."

These students put together a show that any seasoned theater professional could be proud of. We'll have more to share with you in the coming weeks (including a sizzle reel by the folks over at GreenLit Productions), but we wanted to get some production photographs out as quickly as possible. We also wanted to take a moment to thank our incredible donors who made this all possible -- including the Nancy Quinn Fund, a program of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York); the Actors' Equity Association Foundation; and our Kickstarter donors. Without you, our students would not have access to this life-changing opportunity. Thank you so much to our donors, audiences, and families for taking this expedition with us!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New York City, Here We Come!

Yesterday, most of Team Expedition was awake at the crack of dawn -- looking up directions to JFK Airport, making last-minute Trader Joe's trips to pick up snacks for orientation, or trying to jam that one last pair of high-heel shoes into their suitcase for opening night. (This is the last one! Promise!) As we watched the sun go up over the rooftops of Brooklyn, we held our breaths for one of the most exciting -- and most hectic -- days of the year:

Student Arrival Day.

One-by-one, students arrived at the airport and were greeted by NTSA staff members. After talking to them for months via Skype, it was so incredible to finally meet all of these extraordinary artists in-person. In fact, as we ate doughnuts off of a rustic tree slice at Dun-Well Doughnuts, Tara Smith showed me the cover of the arts section of her hometown newspaper. On the cover? A giant photograph of her onstage with the headline "READY FOR HER CLOSE-UP: New Albany Grad receives national theater opportunity." While Tara has become front-page news, she says in the article: "I feel so lucky to be given this opportunity, for it to be paid for and to be in New York. I never imagined myself going to New York. It seemed way far away . . . Sometimes I just think about it and go ‘Oh my God, this is happening.’”

Sitting with Tara yesterday, nibbling on a maple sugar doughnut, I can confirm that, yes, this is actually happening.


Today, I had the privilege of sitting in on the first read-through (or at least part of the first read-through -- we had to rustle up five gallons of paint today from Loews for some scenic construction!). Being the Executive Director, I'm great at managing a budget spreadsheet, but I'm not what you'd call an artistic mastermind. When I first read Rae Binstock's Expedition, my initial thought was: "I really like the relationship between Jack and Tom . . . but what's the deal with the Lewis and Clark scenes?" A trip back in time with language that can only be described as "poetic," I had no idea how those scenes would be staged or designed or performed. So you can imagine my surprise when I was watching Tara perform her first Sky Woman monologue, where she talks about how curiosity led her to fall from the clouds, and I actually started getting a little emotional. (I definitely did not cry in rehearsal. Nope. Never.)

(Why don't you believe me?)

Maybe it's because, just the day before, the NTSA staff had watched our team "fall from the clouds" and settle into the brand new world that had spread out before them. Maybe it's because, just like Sky Woman, these students have taken so many risks to get here -- training throughout high school, performing in community theaters, filming an audition video and uploading it onto NTSA's applications website. Most likely, it's just because Tara Smith is a damn good actress.

Whatever the case, these next two weeks are certain to be a life-changing expedition for everyone traveling this path. Make sure to join our mailing list (just fill in the little box at the top of the screen) and follow us on Instagram @ntsatheatre. And get your tickets to Expedition today! Performances are filling up fast!

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Countdown to the Expedition

Way back in 2004, I moved from a little town in Western New York down to the Big City for college. I was as wide-eyed and eager as they come. Every time I took the 1-9 past 42nd Street-Times Square (yes, this was back in the day when the 9 train existed), my heart would give an excited little leap, as if to say: "YES! WE HAVE ARRIVED!" (Don't even get me started on how traveling below 14th Street automatically triggered a Rent sing-along.) For many of my acquaintances who've lived here for over a decade, New York City has become an annoyance -- the subways are always delayed, the restaurants are always crowded, and the rent is too damn high. Times Square must be avoided at all costs; Williamsburg has become the New York Times' favorite punchline.

But I still love it.

I still feel a sense of adventure every time I step onto a subway. I long for the hustle and bustle of my neighborhood Shake Shack. And while the rent really is too damn high, I wouldn't give up New York City's close quarters for anything -- even if my last apartment was a few square feet short of a walk-in closet. Times Square is still my favorite spot to spend an afternoon (some locals really do sit at those red metal tables). And I live in Williamsburg so come at me, NYT hipster jokes.

New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world.

And so it is with nothing but the utmost excitement that I get ready to welcome six recent high school graduates to New York City, some of them for the first time ever. At the end of this week, they'll be stepping onto planes in Utah, Indiana, Colorado, Florida, Vermont, and Texas and getting ready to embark on their first off-Broadway production. (The first of many! If there's one thing that I've learned working with our designers over the past few months, it's that these students really are the best of the best. It's only a matter of time before we see them on CBS, accepting their first Tony Awards.) They'll be greeted by NTSA staff at the airport and then brought to the New York Moore, which will be their home away from home for the next two weeks. They'll be staying in the East Williamsburg/Bushwick area where many of NTSA's staff members and alumni live -- an up-and-coming artistic hotspot in Brooklyn.

(This is Forrest Point -- the epitome of all things Bushwick in that it's way too cool for me. But that in no way stops me from going there.)

So join us on our expedition to New York City! We have a huge two weeks ahead of us, and we can't to share the adventure with you on this blog and our Instagram (@ntsatheatre). And if you're going to be in town on July 23-25, come and see the world premiere of Rae Binstock's Expedition at the Fourth Street Theatre! It's going to be one incredible journey!

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Congratulations Marla!

Congratulations to Marla Louissaint, winner of the 2015 National High School Musical Theatre Awards (also known as the Jimmy Awards)! Marla was featured as Queen Xerilla, the intergalactic environmentalist, in last summer's production of Jimmy!: A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis, so it's extremely apropos that she walked away from the ceremony at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway with the Jimmy Award. She was competing against her peers from across the nation and won the award for her stirring performance as Caroline in Beacon High School's Caroline, or Change (directed by NTSA board member Jo Ann Cimato).

Check her out in her musical medley at the Jimmy Awards. She starts singing around 6:30!

2015 Jimmy Awards Medley #5

Has it really been two weeks since the #JimmyAwards? Relive the magic of that night with the nominees of Medley #5: Morgan Higgins, Emma Buchanan, Grace Etzkorn, Sabrina Mari Uriegas, Brianna Bryan, Madeline Mathias, Marla Louissaint, Audrey McKee and Hannah Sulak.

Posted by National High School Musical Theatre Awards on Monday, 13 July 2015

(Marla as Queen Xerilla in 2014's Jimmy!: A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis)

(Dancing in Jimmy!'s "Billy's Blues")

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A First Glimpse at the World of Expedition

During the past two months, our student designers have been meticulously crafting the world of Rae Binstock's Expedition -- from the glass-walled Chicago apartment that overlooks the L train, to the soundscape overheard each day on the streets of Harlem, to the lighting effects that will guide audience members back in time to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Despite the fact that they're living in towns across the United States, our designers have already forged a strong and cohesive team. Each Sunday, they meet via Skype for their weekly production meeting. These meetings are a treasure-trove of historical research, script analysis, artistic skill, and hardcore creativity. Our designers can sketch a fully-colored rendering one week, and then rip it up and go back to the drawing board for something completely different the next. It's a challenging and sometimes frustrating process -- but the finished product is worth every moment!

They submitted their first round of designs this past weekend, and we wanted to share some of them with you below. (Make sure to subscribe to our mailing list for more behind-the-scenes access, and if you've already donated, take a peek at the backer-only content on Kickstarter!) But please remember that, without your help, these designs will be relegated to the sketchpad and the model box. Your donation helps us buy the wood, paint, fabric, and hardware that we'll need to bring these designs to life onstage! It only takes a few minutes to make a big difference. Please donate today and join us on our Expedition!


(Jack as William Clark)

(Tom as Meriwether Lewis)


(Set Design)

Please donate today and support our designers and the future of the American theater!

Costume designs by Olivia Hern (Shelburne, VT)
Set design by Jessica Baldinger (West Palm Beach, FL)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"This Life Is Possible, and It's Yours to Live."

A Message from NTSA Board Member Kate Quarfordt

Each summer​,​ New York City floods with young Broadway hopefuls from all over the country whose families pay thousands of dollars for them to participate in prestigious training programs in the performing arts. In a city full of so many great opportunities for creative young people, what makes ​the ​National Theatre for Student Artists' work ​​unique?

Simple​!​ NTSA is the only organization ​in the nation that actually pays student actors, designers​,​ playwrights, and directors from across the country to experience what it's like to be a working creative professional in New York City. Paying kids for their artistic contribution (through a stipend or their flight and lodging) means that this singular professional experience becomes accessible to a much broader array of kids​:​ ​It is based solely on participants' creative merit and not on their families' income level. Equally​ as​ ​important, it creates an indelible stamp on ​students' early experience as developing artists that -- as our proud alumni will attest -- profoundly affects their drive, confidence​,​ and work ethic as they mature in their ​desired ​careers.

It takes a lot of guts to decide that you want to make art for a living​,​ and then commit to developing the skills and practical experience you need to make your dream come true. NTSA offer​s​ students an opportunity to hone those skills and​ earn that experience. AND, by giving participants what for most is their first paycheck as a professional artist, NTSA also provides an intangible but mission-critical boost that tells young creatives: "Your dream is not crazy. This life is possible, and it's yours to live."

We are inviting YOU to become part of nationwide movement to create the next generation of American theater. Donate to NTSA's Kickstarter campaign and help us raise the $10,000 that our students need to bring the world premiere of Expedition to New York City this summer. You have the ability to give students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their creative vision realized onstage. Thank you so much for believing in the future of the American theater!