East Lynne Theater Company Announces Wildwood After-School Program

East Lynne Theater Company Announces Wildwood After-School Program

Last spring, Josepha Penrose, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for Wildwood Public Schools asked artistic director, Gayle Stahlhuth, if East Lynne Theater Company would be interested in being part of an after-school program for Wildwood students. She was applying for the federally funded 21st Century Learning Centers grant. Since the Wildwood School District decided its theme would be visual and performing arts, Penrose believed ELTC would be a good partner. In late August, Penrose received word that the district was awarded the grant and the program must start on October 1.

Wildwood School District was one of only nine districts in the state, and the only one in southern New Jersey to receive this prestigious grant. For five years, the district will provide an after-school program for three-hours every day during the school year, and summer programs as well.

Since 2000, Stahlhuth, along with several ELTC performing/teaching artists, has been conducting in-school and after-school theater residencies and workshops in Cape May and Atlantic Counties. With few exceptions, she has had to procure the funding through grant writing and New Jersey Theatre Alliance's "Stages Festival" programming to bring theater classes to schools. No funding has ever come from the school districts or local tax revenue. From 2009-2011, she received grants from Target Department Stores, allowing her to work with students in Whitesboro one year, and at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School in Wildwood for two years.

Although Stahlhuth is busy enough running a nonprofit theater company with five mainstage productions yearly in Cape May and several touring shows on the road anywhere from Texas to Maine, she remains committed to keeping art in schools. In the early 1980s, she applied as an artist-in-residence (AIR) to the New York Foundation for the Arts and was accepted. She had never been trained as a teacher, but her background as an Equity professional actor with regional theater, national tours and Off-Broadway credits, plus her playwriting and directing background secured her the position. Not giving up any of her own performing and writing, she now added AIR to her list of credits and found herself in various schools throughout the state including Corning, Massapequa, and the Bronx. She applied to New Jersey State Council on the Arts (it was close) and to the Utah and Wyoming Arts Councils (she loves the Rockies) and was accepted. Now, she was going to places including Lander, WY, Ogden, UT, and Ute reservations. For her work as an AIR, she was selected in 2001 as one of only 200 artists (with varying disciplines), throughout the country, to be included in "The Directory of Community Artists" published by The National Endowment for the Arts.

There are other workshops that are part of the Wildwood after-school program, including film and cooking classes, but ELTC is committed to a two-hour each day, two-days-a-week schedule. Stahlhuth knew from the beginning that she could not - and would not - want to manage this alone. For several years she had been looking for a talented, committed AIR, and last spring, she met Sally Bingham. When the Wildwood program had to start in October, Bingham was right there.

Stahlhuth met Bingham at West Cape May Elementary School, where, with no funding, she provided an after-school program culminating in a production of "Hamlet." Stahlhuth attended one of the rehearsals and the performance. Her husband, Ken Bingham, and friends who are performers/AIRs from New York City, were on hand to help, but the focus was on the third through sixth graders performing in "Denmark."

For 25 years, Bingham has been involved in theater as an actor, director, and playwright in Chicago and Philadelphia, participating in productions ranging from full-length improvisational plays to fringe festivals to children's musicals. She has taught acting skills and creativity to both corporate executives and children. With her husband, playwright Ken Bingham, they founded the professional theater company Edge Productions and Over The Edge Comedy Troupe. Currently, the Binghams live and work in Philadelphia and Cape May with their two children.

Also on board with the Wildwood after-school program is Grace Wright, who worked with Stahlhuth last March at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School, guiding students in writing plays about Wildwood and performing them as staged readings. Wright made her ELTC performing debut with "He and She" in 2011, and this summer played numerous roles in "The Poe Mysteries" that was also seen at Ocean Professional Theatre Company in Barnegat in October. For two years in a row, she has performed at ELTC's annual fundraising gala at Aleathea's Restaurant and was the recipient of ELTC's Historic Jackson Street Scholarship in 2011. A native of South Jersey, Wright has performed in many local productions, including the role of Hodel in "Fiddler on the Roof" at Cumberland County College last spring. She has also appeared in several independent films and worked on crew as music director and stage manager for Sojourn Productions.

ELTC is also involved in bringing in special workshop teachers and seeing to it that students attend professional, live Theater Productions. When James Rana, who wrote and performed in ELTC's production of "The Poe Mysteries" was in Cape May performing in "Sherlock Holmes' Adventure of the Norwood Builder," he taught two juggling workshops at the school. He'll be back teaching again in Wildwood in March. Rana has worked for Big Apple Circus, and has been in productions at Classical Theatre of Harlem and The Royal Shakespeare Company, among others. Already, Wildwood students have seen special matinee performances of "The Norwood Builder" and "Louisa May Alcott's Christmas" performed by Stahlhuth.

With so many schools throughout the country removing art, music, and theater from their schedules, it's good to know that theater and creativity are alive and well in Wildwood.

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