BCP launches Playhouse Institute for area drama teachers

Three upcoming Conferences for Educators are taught by award-winning professional theater artists currently working on Broadway and at some of the best regional theaters in the country

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

A valuable lesson: In order to provide drama teachers with relevant information and skills to pass onto their students, Bucks County Playhouse is launching The Playhouse Institute, a new educational component of the nonprofit that encompasses three upcoming Conferences for Educators. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Throughout Bucks County, it’s inarguable that most school districts boast a quality drama program. There’s Neshaminy Summer Stock, which showcases a high caliber of local student talent, annual spring musicals at Bensalem, Bristol Township and Pennsbury, and a slew of fine arts classes.

Working diligently behind-the-scenes and in the classrooms are the drama teachers, who serve as major influences to the next generation of performers. But, according to Bucks County Playhouse producing director Alexander Fraser, who recently hosted a series of focus groups for instructors, obtaining valuable knowledge to pass onto students isn’t exactly easy.

“Several teachers said that there were no regional professional development opportunities for drama teachers,” Fraser said. “In order to maintain their accreditation, they had to take classes that have no bearing on what they teach.”

In order to arm drama teachers with relevant information and skills, BCP is launching The Playhouse Institute, a new educational component of the nonprofit that encompasses three upcoming Conferences for Educators.

Taught by award-winning professional theater artists currently working on Broadway and at some of the best regional theaters in the country, the conferences are designed to inspire teachers and directors of middle school, high school and college theater with innovative teaching methods, production skills and opportunities to connect with peers and Playhouse artists.

Participants in the Institute will receive continuing education credits, as the Playhouse was recently certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as an Act 48 provider.

“As most theater artists have a debt of gratitude toward our own drama teachers, we thought the creation of an institute toward the exchange of ideas, expertise and experiences was a terrific way for us to give back to those who first inspired us to pursue our professional careers,” said Michaela Murphy, director of education at the Playhouse.

The Institute’s first program takes place on May 18, during which attendees will gain directorial skills they can apply to their own school productions. They will participate in an intensive, day-long series of workshops and master classes with Playhouse performers, creative teams and production staff. The day features a roundtable discussion on the art of producing a show with BCP’s Tony Award-winning producers Fraser, Robyn Goodman and Josh Fiedler.

Additional sessions include instruction from renowned directors Mike Donahue (BCP’s Dial ‘M’ for Murder), Hunter Foster (BCP’s Million Dollar Quartet) and Gordon Greenberg (Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn on Broadway). Educators will earn nine to 11 hours of professional credit for the May conference.

At the second conference on June 29, participants will study musical theater and attend a performance of Mamma Mia!. Workshops will focus on song interpretation, musical direction, choreography and staging for musical theater.

The Aug. 10 event explores technical theater and a performance of Always…Patsy Cline. Workshop content will address stage management, costume design, scenic design, as well as lighting and sound design.

Tuition for any of the one-day conferences is $330, which includes breakfast, lunch and a ticket to an opening night performance/opening night party. Scholarships are available. During select conferences, additional days may be added to attend technical dress rehearsals, note sessions with the creative team and cast, and special events designed for educators to interact with production teams.

A more intensive experience, Order, Tension, Harmony: The Elements of Production Design, will be held Nov. 7–9. This hands-on, immersive program offers master-classes, panel discussions and a front row seat during technical rehearsals through opening night of BCP’s production of the musical Once.

Using analysis of both libretto and score, attendees learn from Playhouse artists, directors and producers how script analysis is applied toward developing a cohesive concept, design and direction of a full stage production.

The November conference culminates in a presentation of theatrical concepts, created by attendees during workshops, to a panel of guest artists for feedback, guidance and support. The workshops are designed to assist educators as they experience new ways of combining the elements of theater (sets, costumes, direction, staging, lights and sound) to translate a story into production.

Tuition for the three-day conference is $775. Scholarships are available. Teachers can earn 27 to 33 hours of credit.

For each conference, the Playhouse has enlisted the support of a steering committee consisting of school superintendents, teachers and arts advocates. They include Lou Volpe, retired drama teacher at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown; Gina Cholan, drama teacher at Neshaminy High School; and Sam Lee, superintendent of schools for Bensalem Township School District.

To register for any of the conferences, visit BucksCountyPlayhouse.org or contact Ellen Gallos, education manager, at 267–603–7162. Bucks County Playhouse is located at 70 S. Main St., New Hope. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com