Behind the Scenes of Summer Stars
"Adventurous theater in Astoria"

-- The New York Times

Behind the Scenes of Summer Stars

APAC’s 13th season has officially kicked off!

Monday morning 31 kids age 8-13 took over the Good Shepherd Church and started rehearsals for Summer Stars: Project Fame.  In it’s 11th season, Summer Stars is our favorite way to start the season, bringing musical theater to the kids of Queens.  

We asked two of the adults in charge – our Program Coordinator, Olivia O’Brien and our Musical Director, Paul Martinez – to give you the inside scoop of what’s been happening this week.  I hope you join us on August 24th to see these fantastic kids in action at Summer Stars.



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This year’s Summer Stars are very talented and learning their music quickly!  In addition to learning music, we have covered stage directions, improvisational games, vocal technique, story-telling, and character development. And it’s only day four!

We’ve also managed to have a lot of fun! This year’s favorite game is Museum – one person plays the curator who wanders the museum looking at the exhibits…and every time the curator turns his or her back, the “exhibits” begin to slowly move. If the curator catches them moving, they must leave the museum!  It is a game of elimination that teaches our Summer Stars to discover creative movements and to be observant.



 Day 1  Monday     

My third year of music directing Summer Stars — yay!  It’ll be a whirlwind two weeks, but it’s always so rewarding at the end when we all see what we accomplished in such a short time. After record-breaking attendance at this summer’s auditions, we cast 31 wonderful young kids, between 8 and 13 years old.  Many of the kids are returning performers from previous years, but about a third of the kids are brand new to the program, which is very exciting!

After some initial “getting to know you” theater games, we bravely delved into learning some of the music. Turns out, a lot of the kids were pretty familiar with most of our songs… fun songs from Wicked and Legally Blonde… But I knew we were in good shape when even the young ones knew Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from 1984! (How is that even possible??  Thank you, “Glee”…)  Katherine, our Director/Choreographer, and I were very relieved.

I knew one of the first songs we had to tackle early in the process was a 3-part harmony section in what I’m calling our “resolve ballad”– when the characters learn the moral of the show, and they all have their “aha!” moment. I was amazed that most of them could hold their harmonies after just a couple run-thrus. If we’re in this great shape so early in the process, this song has the potential to be an audience tear-jerker on performance day.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Ah, pouring rain. Rough way to start the day. Olivia, our Program Coordinator, is on top of things as always (thank goodness), but Katherine and I are stumbling a little to get on track. Once we get our footing, it’s on to learning more music and reviewing songs. Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” comes pretty easily to the kids after a little specific phrasing direction. “I Want To Go To Hollywood”, from the musical Grand Hotel, gets more polished after they understand a couple rhythm issues. Our “Rich & Famous” medley, using Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire”, Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” and Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up”, is going smoothly…

Learning Music with Paul

Learning Music with Paul

After the first couple days of learning music, we’re really ready to tackle an actual script by the third or fourth day.  Three days of doing the same songs and theater games can get a little monotonous… and since the show isn’t that long, it’s not like we’re using a whole score full of songs. So the kids are ready to move forward. I just hope Katherine and I are ready to take that leap.

A good bulk of the cast will basically be playing themselves, as students. But we have a handful of character roles in this script, and we’ve been eyeing the kids during our theater games and vocal sessions to see who might fit into these roles. We need to cast three evil reality show judges, an “American Idol” type winner, and the school teacher. I think we’ve almost got it figured out. Almost.

Lots to accomplish tomorrow… few more songs, announce casting, title the show, character names… So much to do.  At least tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for sunny skies! I’d better make sure my sneakers are dried out from all the rain today…

Day 3 – Wednesday

Things went much better today.  In vocal warm-ups, I was really able to help the kids learn the difference between their head and chest voices, as well as a forward and back placement to their sound. As a group, they sound really impressive.

We finalized the casting of the main roles today and announced it before lunch. The kids in actual roles are amazing in their parts. We still have many strong singers in the “student body” of the show, which we’ll need for solos in the majority of songs.  The reality show judges learned “Popular” from Wicked today… and they rocked it. Our group opening number was staged…and is really coming along as well.

We really need a script tomorrow…

Day 4 – Thursday

Well… Apparently the script revisions are more involved than Katherine initially thought. And with her fighting some kind of throat virus, and hardly having any voice all week… She thought it best to stay home today and finish the script, so that we have it ASAP. So Olivia and I are on our own today… yikes! Good thing we were able to come up with a game plan rather quickly this morning.

Vocal warm up today had an emphasis on breathing correctly and learning how to support their sound. Then lots of music to clean up, add harmonies, and some songs we finally get to sing all the way through now that we know who some of the soloists are.

We had a APAC Senior Stars volunteer, Helen, helping us out today… She was adorable. She was blown away by the kids’ talent– how great they sounded, and couldn’t believe they had most of their songs memorized already.  She said, “Oh, this is SO much better than Senior Stars… Makes me want to jump in and join them!”  Oh, to be young again, eh?

It was kind of nice to have a focus on music today, and I was able to fix a lot of the more difficult spots. The bulk of my job as music director is now done…. just have to edit my sheet music and prep it for performance day. At this point, I become an accompanist for the rest of rehearsals and the shows. Now it’s really up to Katherine to come through with a script tomorrow, and get this show staged!


  1. Kim Alvarez
    Aug 16, 2013

    Thanks for this wonderful update…Amber has been having a blast, singing all around the house. She even did her “homework” last night. Can’t wait until the performance!

  2. Flavia
    Aug 17, 2013

    I’ve read Olivia and Paul’s inside scoop and I felt like I was actually there all week. Seeing those kids perform makes me wish I was a kid again. (But I am . . . a BIG one. (ha!). And every time I get on that stage (S.S. since 2008 (that’s Senior Stars not Social Security)) I know that was where I belong. I missed my calling – Boo Hooooooooo . . . . (Helen??? another BIG kid . . . she’s a great gal!). Can’t wait to see the show!!!

  3. Darlene DiSanti
    Aug 27, 2013

    “Project Fame” was awesome. It was fun to watch and great to listen too. The children were so on top of their game. Clapping Hands to Katherine, Olivia and Paul for putting on such a great show. My daughter had a blast her first year and cant wait until next summer.

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