Summer Stars – A Volunteer’s Perspective
"Adventurous theater in Astoria"

-- The New York Times

Summer Stars – A Volunteer’s Perspective

On Saturday we wrapped up this year’s Summer Stars with APAC’s first performance of the season.  The 31 kids (all 8 to 13  years old) who participated this year did us proud, performing in an entertaining show that left our audiences abuzz.  We wanted to give you a behind the scene perspective on what the day holds, so we asked a newbie to Summer Stars and one of our volunteers for the day, Drayton Hiers, to tell us how he thought the day went.

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The day starts at ten, when we begin turning the Good Shepherd gym into a theatre.  We want the hardworking Summer Stars to have a proper space to show off their talent, so we spend a few hours setting up seats, dropping curtains and hanging set dressings.  On the balcony above us, Katherine the director and Annie the production manager work through lighting cues.  Paul, the musical director, rehearses his arrangements of Broadway and pop songs on his two massive keyboards.  We only have a few hours until the Summer Stars arrive.

Just past noon they file in, young performers ranging in age from eight to thirteen, carrying costumes on hangers and props in paper bags.  They gather in the auditorium, bubbling with excitement, chatting and laughing with the new friends they’ve made in the past two weeks.  While they are having fun being kids, they are also here to get a job done, and soon they are up on their feet, rehearsing scene changes and choreography.

IMG_0398When they are all on the APAC stage, it’s clear what a large cast this is: thirty-one children arrayed on various platforms, filling the full expanse of the proscenium, singing a boisterous and kinetically choreographed rendition of “Price Tag”.  Having worked out a few last minute adjustments to the number, they run the whole musical from the top, their first chance to do the show with full lights and tech, and their last before they have an audience.

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Photo Credit: Bradley Hawkes

As we watch the run, Tom Wojtunik leans over to tell me that the show was put together in two weeks.  My jaw drops.  “Project Fame” is a 45 minute musical written by Katherine and Paul specifically for these students.  Inspired by singing competitions like American Idol, the musical looks at what happens when the students of Queens County High are offered the chance to become TV stars and singing sensations.  They are tempted by their fantasies of Hollywood and instant wealth, but soon learn that they have a much greater treasure in their friends and family.  All of this is told through ten songs, most of them large scale production numbers, and a book full of big laughs and fun characters.  Each actor gets the chance to show off his or her special skills and personality.  It is hard to believe that all of this was done in just two weeks.

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Photo Credit: Bradley Hawkes

After the run, they get notes, work through one more piece of choreography, and then have a pizza lunch.  By 3:00 PM, friends and family are arriving, eager to see the first of two back-to-back performances.  The show goes great, with the actors finding more energy and humor in front of their live audience, which responds with loud laughs and enthusiastic applause.  The 6:00 PM show is even more energetic, with an over-capacity crowd cheering on their children, grandchildren, or friends who are coming alive on stage, alight with the special glow of achievement, self-discovery, and the infectious spirit of musical theatre (and Bruno Mars).

For most of the participants, Summer Stars is a chance for them to try out performing in a fun, safe environment.  As they talked after the show, we heard the actors and their families talking about how they had become less shy through the two weeks, or made new friends, or discovered that there are other people like them in the world.  It was such a gift to be on hand to watch them sing and dance their way through this very special day.

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