Imagine standing onstage in a costume that had been worn by Bebe Neuwirth or Ben Vereen in the Broadway musical “Fosse.”
Some young Omahans didn't have to just envision that this week. As participants in an intensive theater program at the Holland Performing Arts Center, they lived the dream, trying on the “Fosse” costumes that still bore laundry labels with the names of the actors who wore them.
The five-day program, the Broadway Dreams Intensive, is aimed at young people who are serious about musical theater. Some of Broadway's top actors, directors, choreographers and singers taught classes in acting, singing and dancing to about 100 students.
Broadway costume designer Kelly Le Vine brought out the “Fosse” outfits in a week packed with singing lessons, dancing sessions, mock auditions, makeovers and rehearsals, many for the event's final performance tonight.
The program in Omaha, a partnership of the nonprofit Broadway Dreams Foundation and Omaha Performing Arts, is in its third year. The youngest participant this week was 8; the oldest in the early 20s.
The Broadway Dreams price tag is hefty — $895, although scholarships are available — for more than 40 hours of training. Participants had to audition for admission.
But it's a place where Broadway dreams can come true, or at least become possible.
Annette Tanner, one of the Broadway Dreams Foundation founders and its executive director, says numerous people who have taken the workshops in Omaha or its other two permanent homes, Philadelphia and Atlanta, have found a path to a theater career.
One of this session's young talents, Brownell-Talbot junior Grace Bydalek, had reason to scream for joy Wednesday. She was invited to audition for the new Broadway musical “Bare.” Tanner and performer Tituss Burgess (“The Little Mermaid,” “Jersey Boys”) were “blown away by her voice,” so they made a video of Grace singing Bob Dylan's “Make You Feel My Love” and sent it to people they know. The response was immediate, Tanner said.
“That's what Broadway Dreams is all about.”
Grace, 16, couldn't have walked in off the street to audition for the show, Tanner said. The casting director was looking for kids at least 18 years old. But because of Broadway Dreams' reputation and the quality of performers who come out of the program, they made an exception for Grace, who heads to New York next week.
“My mother cried when she heard,” Grace said.
Also going to New York for a “Bare” audition is University of Nebraska at Omaha student Sam Swerczek.
The program doesn't guarantee jobs for participants, Tanner said. But it gives them inside information on how the musical theater world works and most importantly, helps them make connections.
Omahan Dan Tracy, 23, is participating in Broadway Dreams for the third year. On the strength of his work in the program, he got to be Soldier No. 2 in the Metropolitan Opera performances of “Aida” last year.
“I didn't do a whole lot, but, man, that theater is something else,” Tracy said of the Met during the day's brief lunch break.
He moved to New York last September. He said he got in touch with people he had connected with in Broadway Dreams as soon as he got there, not for a job but for support and information: Where's the best area to find a place to live, what part-time jobs are available for struggling actors, “the little stuff.”
Skyler Himberger, 8, the youngest participant at this summer's workshops, said she loves the singing and dancing and acting. Her favorite part of the week is performing in the “Matilda” number for tonight's concert. She already knows she wants to be an actor when she grows up.
Grace also know what she wants to do in the future, or at least her goal is getting clearer.
“My goals have shifted in the last few days. I'm just trying to roll with the punches,” said Grace, who added that she has made a lot of good friends through Broadway Dreams. “The support system you build is important. The faculty, the friends you make, they're all valuable.”
Tanner said she has more volunteers than spaces available for the Broadway Dreams faculty. And students at universities with strong musical theater programs apply for the intern positions.
Craig D'Amico (“Annie Get Your Gun,” “Fiddler on the Roof”) gave up attending a friend's wedding so he could be an acting coach in Omaha this week.
“I've done a lot of teaching programs,” he said. “This is something special. It's hard to put into words.”
Director Matt Lenz (“Hairspray,” “Catch Me if You Can”) agrees. He is directing tonight's end-of-the-workshop concert, “Express Yourself,” which will showcase everything the performers have learned.
“You can't get this training in an app,” Lenz said. “The mentoring tradition is strong in the theater. It's the way I learned it. It's important to be part of that.
“It's fun for us (professionals) too. The inspiration works both ways. It renews our artistic juices. It reminds us why we got into this business in the first place.”
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