For many area residents, Jamestown’s Drama Enrichment Program has acted as a positive influence, and has even inspired some to pursue careers in entertainment.
The DEP, which is in part supported by grants from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, is an immersion providing program for youth and young adults who are exposed to the arts, particularly drama and musical theater.
According to Constantino, founder and director of the DEP, the program offers intensive sessions in dramatic skills and vocal presentation to provide an avenue of artistic expression. The principle areas of growth for those involved in the program include self-esteem, critical thinking, communication and confidence. The students also acquire skills and background knowledge about the process of hosting a production. And, at the culmination of each project the students are responsible for performing in front of a live audience.
“It’s not just about theater and being on stage – it’s about job interviews, life skills and interpersonal relationships,” said Constantino.
Over the course of its time in Jamestown, the DEP has typically had a home at the Reg Lenna Civic Center, however, this year, Constantino was able to rent portions of the Holy Family School on North Main Street to host kids camps and summer camps with Broadway stars.
“The Holy Family School is currently closed, so we were fortunate enough to be able to rent it for our summer camps,” said Constantino. “There’s much more room for the kids to spread out in.”
Children aged 4-12 who attended the summer Kids Camp spent three, two-week sessions learning theater terms, improvisation, costuming, set construction and hosted a play, which they produced on their own with the knowledge they had acquired via the program. More than a dozen children participate in each session.
“They do actual production activities,” said Constantino. “You’d have to see it to really appreciate it, because they are very funny, innovative and they put it together themselves. They learn a lot, and there is a definite difference in the approach of those who have been in it before. Two moms who attended the production said to me, ‘I cannot believe what you got out of them, because they are really shy and you were able to draw them out.’ We have personalities that are very strong, but by the end of the sessions they all love each other and work well together.”
As the children in the program grow, the DEP adjusts and evolves to suit the needs of its participants. Constantino continues to work with the students throughout their high school and college careers, as well as providing advice to those who have graduated. Those above the age of 12 enter the Big Kids Camp, which is an intensive immersion program which exposes its students to two Broadway stars who spend their summers offering their knowledge of the business.
“Keith (Buterbaugh) and Jan (Horvath) are clinicians in vocal performance and they can tell if something is wrong,” said Constantino. “Most of our kids take vocal lessons, and hopefully they are on the right track, but we want to make sure they stay on the right track. The goal is for them to use their voice appropriately.”
According to Michelle Cope, 19, a current DEP student studying at SUNY Fredonia and who is interning with Constantino, when she first arrived at college she thought she wanted to be a doctor, but after studying the sciences she soon found that life was lacking something crucial.
“I did very well in the biology program, but I was so unhappy,” said Cope. “I was in two a cappella groups at the time, one of which I am now the music director for, and friends from those groups said to me, ‘It’s because you don’t have enough music in your life,’ – that changed my life. It made me realize I can’t even go a day without music. I don’t know what avenue I want to take yet, and there is just so much I want to do, but right now this is really helping me figure that out.”
Cope, who is completely new to the program this year, said that after her exposure to the DEP’s Kids Camp, she wishes that she would have had something similar in her youth because it would have helped solidify her decision at a much younger age.
FROM JAMESTOWN TO
For the past 11 years, Broadway star Keith Buterbaugh has spent time out of each of his summers to visit Jamestown to share his experience with area youth.
According to Buterbaugh, he fell in love with Jamestown and the safety it provides to its residents, which is why he keeps coming back. He also said he gets a great sense of satisfaction and a humbling feeling being able to watch the visceral change occur in the youth he mentors.
“It’s something you can literally touch, and it’s very moving sometimes,” said Buterbaugh. “Some of the stuff is so nebulous and so hard to explain, but they get it, and then you see a lightbulb go on – you see them blossom.”
Over the course of his time as a mentor with the program, several former students of his have gone on to find work in the entertainment industry.
“I wish I had this when I was their age because they take this with them for the rest of their lives,” said Buterbaugh. “We’ve already had three or four who’ve left this program and they are in New York now. He’s out there doing it, and he started in Jamestown – it’s wonderful to see.”
During the only year that Buterbaugh couldn’t make it to Jamestown as a result of being involved in a Broadway production, he secured his good friend David Chernault, actor, singer and director, to take his place. Plus, in the past two years, Buterbaugh’s close friend and Broadway star Jan Horvath, has also become involved in the program.
“I had a blast last year, and I’m having a blast again this year – it’s a privilege to get to mess around with these young talented people,” said Horvath. “The goal is to hopefully pass on some of the stuff that we’ve learned, and to steer them in the right direction so they don’t fall into some of the pitfalls that we fell into. I also really like the concept of mentoring and then getting to perform with them as colleagues on stage together.”
While visiting Jamestown for the DEP summer camps, Horvath also decided to participate in the Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy. A comedic troupe of troops, the GIs of Comedy, hosted an evening of entertainment for area veterans, free-of-charge. The event featured a performance by the GIs, as well as pre and post-shows. During the pre-show, Horvath and women of the DEP performed the “Boogie Woogie Medley.”
“Last year we were here for the festival, but we were rehearsing and I didn’t get to participate, so it’ll be fun to see what’s going on with that,” said Horvath. “My father was a veteran of WWII, so I think it’s a great project, and the only thing I’ve ever done this like is a patriotic concert. It’s so moving that it made me cry and I could hardly sing.”
The students involved in this year’s program range in age from 14-19, and they include: Cope, Ben Swanson, Michael Hawk, David Rivera, Anna O’Brien, Kourney Young, Sonia Angeli and Susan Bowers. During instruction, the students and Broadway stars were accompanied by pianist Julie Livengood. Mikyung Kim is the regular rehearsal and performance pianist.
“It is such an honor and a privilege to get to work with them,” said Cope. “How many people our age get to stay that we worked with people from Broadway? This is a very rare opportunity, and I jumped at the chance when I heard about it. The things we’ve learned are invaluable. We’re learning not only about our voices, technicalities, emotions and acting, but about the business aspect of things which is oftentimes overlooked with people our age.”
To showcase what Buterbaugh and Horvath have accomplished during their time in Jamestown, Buterbaugh annually hosts a “Pops And Broadway” performance at the Reg Lenna Civic Center. This year’s performance will be held on Saturday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $18 for seniors and $12 for students.
“It’s a great Broadway review with all the great standards, great talent and with a live professional band – it’s really top notch,” said Buterbaugh. “There are kids in this review who will be on Broadway someday.”
A LIFELONG IMPACT
A number of the students who have participated in the DEP have gone on to make careers from themselves as directors, producers, actors and various other aspects of entertainment. And, Constantino can’t help but feel thankful for the opportunity to have been a positive influence on so many talented individuals.
“Something I’ve noticed through the 12 years I’ve been director is that these kids still stay together, talk with each other and some of them are even married now and have kids of their own – it’s really precious,” said Constantino. “Everyday when I come in I watch these little people do miraculous things, and I watch them grow in ways that only a director can see. When they first come in I see images of what they could possibly be, and they never let me down. Some of them are more talented than others, but they are all talented in different ways.”
The really precious part, said Constantino, is when her former students think of her and express their appreciation for the time “Mrs. C” spent being a mentor.
“Everybody has a day where they feel like they want to walk in front of a truck, and on those days it seems like someone always manages to come out of the woodwork to tell me how thankful they are for everything,” said Constantino.
A few examples of former DEP students who have made careers for themselves include: Vicki Adams, who owns her own production company in NYC and Kalen J. Hall, who is an actor in NYC. Vinny Gerace, another former DEP student, is currently studying motion picture production at Full Sail University in Florida.
The DEP annually hosts a variety of productions, including “Christmas Magic,” “3 Divas” and “Pops And Broadway.” This year’s “Christmas Magic” production will be held Saturday, Nov. 30 at the Reg Lenna Civic Center. “3 Divas” will follow shortly after on Saturday, Dec. 7. The production will feature performances by Constantino, Melanie Gritters and Anne Ecklund, and acts as a fundraiser for Creche.
The DEP also recently produced a feature film to which Constantino wrote the screenplay for entitled “They Speak in Numbers,” a thriller about partisans and spies in war time Berlin and their efforts to save Jews from the fury of Adolf Hitler. The filming of the project was also utilized as a means to provide further theatrical training.
For more information, call 763-2034 or visit www.depjamestown.com.