When I was growing up in Atlanta, I must have acquired a love for theater very young. I’m not sure how it happened, living in a culturally void waste land (for the most part), but I found community theater and embraced it. I went to a summer camp where we put on a play one summer (Fiddler on the Roof), I starred in a production I Never Saw Another Butterfly), I went to a performing arts high school much like the one in the movie/TV show Fame (except no one danced on the table) and my mom took me to countless national touring productions from The Sound of Music to Cats to Annie to Oklahoma and the list goes on. Pippin was life-changing, as was You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I took extracurricular Shakespeare classes in high school – that’s how I liked to spend my time after hours.
Looking back now, memories of my mom taking me to these productions is pouring back into my mind. I can also picture her sitting in the car as she picked me up from rehearsals. She also took me to watch black and white movies at the local repertory film house. She was the culture in my vulture, or she put it there.
When I moved to London and then New York City, I took this love of theater with me. I have seen hundreds of Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway shows over the years. It’s the theater that gives me the most pleasure in life. When the lights go out and the curtains go up, my heart flutters, I sit back in my chair and prepare for greatness. I have spent hours upon hours in the theater – I saw Rent when it was a small play at the 4th Street Theatre Workshop and Hamilton when it was still relatively unknown at the Public Theater, and practically every single show offered at Lincoln Center Theater or the past twenty years.
When I had kids, I immediately jumped into my role as “The Culture Mom” without pause. Exposure came early. At age four, I took my daughter to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. We were seated in the very top row of the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street, but it made no difference. She was transported. We would next see Wicked and that experience was even more life-changing. And I kept doing. We spent a lot of time at the New Victory Theater. We went to hear music, primarily Music for Aardvarks, a music class I was obsessed with. The lead singer of the real band Aardvarks was extremely talented and I was able to find his concerts easily. Early exposure to theater stirs a child’s imagination and increases attention span. Her experience at Wicked was a good example of that – her eyeballs were zapping around the costumes, sets and choreography.
Unfortunately, this didn’t turn my daughter into an actress, but she truly loves theater and shared my obsession with everything Broadway. So, when Camp Broadway recently invited us to the Drama Desk Awards to celebrate everything NYC theater, was most excited. What better way could there possibly be to introduce her to the most celebrated stage talent in the city and to the plays that have memorized me over the past year? We got all dressed up in our best clothes and went into the city for evening, first to Sardi’s, where theater luminaries dine daily. We had our caricatures done, just as every stage actor had after walking in the door and munched on dinner whilst gearing up for the night. The night was no less than perfection. We were in the presence of George C. Wolfe, Jessica Lange, Cynthia Erivo, Danny Burstein, Jane Krakowski, Bartlett Sher, Savion Glover, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, playwright Danai Gurira and Sheldon Harnick who penned Fiddler on the Roof, Rothschild and Sons, and She Loves Me. It was a dream.
Camp Broadway won a special award, and I was really happy to be a part of their special night. For more than 20 years, this indispensable organization has introduced young people to the magic of theater. Camp Broadway plays a crucial role in creating tomorrow’s audiences, and NYC owes them a lot. They create authentic Broadway experiences with musical theater programs for theater-lovers of all ages. Their signature summer program for ages 10-17, can be found around the country at tour venues as well as New York City. Their other programs include Shining Stars (ages 6-9), The Next Step (ages 14-17), Camp Broadway EXP (ages 10-17), as well as various special performance opportunities. Head here for more info about their programs, particularly their upcoming program in July in NYC that includes five days of master classes with Broadway artists. This summer Camp Broadway will celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit by showcasing two musicals featuring protagonists that demonstrate ambition, positivity, and leadership – How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Legally Blonde the Musical JR. They will also venture to the theater to see the Broadway production of School of Rock.
Camp Broadway serves the Broadway industry by being an authorized channel for families, schools and social organizations that believe in the essential value of the arts as a means of life-long learning. For this reason and so much more, I’m a fan and I’ll be writing more about their programs here on this blog.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Camp Broadway at the Drama Desk Awards.