BWW Interview: Donna Vivino Talks Summer Program for Students JOURNEY TO BROADWAY
Donna Vivino is Broadway vet with a career starting at age 8 when she took the stage in Les Miserables. Since then she's thrilled audiences in Wicked, Hairspray, Saturday Night Fever, and more.
Her latest project has her sharing her skills and art with the next generation in her Journey to Broadway summer program in New Jersey. Students will spend the week in intensives, masterclasses, panels and will even get to attend a Broadway show.
Vivino took a moment to chat with BroadwayWorld about her exciting project, see what she had to say below!
**Students interested in attending the program can audition on February 16th at Yamaha Music Conservatory in Fair Lawn, NJ (click here to register), or submit a video audition before March 1st to email@example.com.**
Why did you start Journey to Broadway? What made you want to put this together?
I'm originally from Bergen County, New Jersey. I loved the theatre even as a child, and I did perform as a child professionally in Les Mis. New Jersey is really the backyard of Broadway, it's right near the city, so I used to see shows. I moved back here and I would meet other moms who'd say, "oh, do you give acting lessons or voice lessons?" I started building up a bit of a studio. Not a brick and mortar, but I would go to people's homes or they would come to a rental space somewhere in New Jersey.
I started working and oddly enough, I was asked to musical direct a production of Annie last year. This woman calls me out of the blue; her name is Leya Adler, she has her master's in theatre education from NYU and she's written countless children's shows and she's local. She calls my cell phone - got it somehow, she's hilarious - and says, "You don't know me and you probably wouldn't want to do this, you probably don't even have time to do this, but would you want to musical direct Annie at a little elementary school you've probably never heard" and I said, "I actually went to that school." I said, "You know what? Yes." There was something about her energy that I just really liked.
I worked with these kids musical directing Annie. At that point I'd also had a little improv class going and some voice students. Parents were constantly asking me questions like "My daughter doesn't necessarily want to be a Broadway performer but she just loves working with you," or "she wants to have more types of experiences like this." There are always places that put out plays and whatnot but I thought there's something here. There's a program that I could hopefully put together.
So you decided to partner with Leya Adler?
I knew I didn't want to do it alone. I knew that I wanted Leya, who has a background with kids as well, and I loved working with her. We came up with the idea together. I came to her and sort of said here's what I've always envisioned: a unique program where kids can learn from Broadway artists. The parents can also meet some casting directors and agents and find out about what it would take, what it would mean. We came up with a one-week summer program.
What kinds of things set this program apart from others like it?
When we audition, it's more of an interview in the sense that of course we're looking for a certain skill level or talent, but we also want to see level of interest. There was a girl who came in recently saying, "I know I'm not the best singer, I know I'm not the best actress. I think I want to be a director someday, so I want to learn everything I can." She's in! I don't care if she's tone-deaf, she's in, because it's not just about that. There are so many other aspects of Broadway and while this is a performance based program for the week, someone may leave and say, "I could be a company manager. What's that? I didn't know what that was beforehand."
There's also the fact that while kids have more access now via instagram and whatnot, there's nothing like being in a room with someone and being able to sing a song and get feedback instantly. And they get to do it right out here in New Jersey! There are a lot of programs in the city that do this, but this is something right here.
What exactly does the program entail and how many students are you taking?
We don't have a set number, but we're building sort of a conservatory program. We want to keep the classes small - no class will be more than twenty kids. We have three or four classes, based on mainly age group and level of experience. You won't have a 17 year-old with an 8 year-old. There'll be a showcase, they'll see a Broadway show midweek. I'll be there the whole week teaching everyday and they'll get master classes with me and lots of other very exciting people. They may have an open mic night one night in a cabaret space during the week. We're going to tailor the program to the talent pool that we have.
You also mentioned you'll be involving parents in the program as well, giving them a panel or two?
When I was working with my private students, I noticed that one of two things happens. Some parents are literally like 'they need to be on Broadway yesterday.' And other parents are like, "my daughter just told me she wants to be an actress, can you tell her how awful a life it is?" There's a middle ground in there. We wanted parents to learn some things and sit in and be involved in ways too so they can see what happens and what the process is like. I want parents to know that you can be successful in the arts and not be a superstar. There are successful artists and successful people who work in all aspects of theatre, who are not necessarily Bernadette Peters. There are jobs, there is work and we hope to take away a little bit of the stigma of, "well, they can't do that, that's no kind of life."
What is is that really excites you about Journey to Broadway and bringing theatre to kids?
The thing about this industry is that it really is a journey. As cheesy as that sounds, it's so true. You just don't know where your love of the arts and where your love of Broadway could lead you. It could lead you to just being a patron. It could lead you to wanting to invest in a Broadway show. We need all kinds of people to be involved with Broadway. Broadway is something that I always wanted to do when I was a little girl, I dreamed about it and I happened to get lucky. I got Les Mis as a kid, but everyone's journey is completely different.
One girl came to the audition and said, "I want to do the program because I want to see a Broadway show and I've never seen a Broadway show and I know we get to see a Broadway show." That's amazing to me because I'm spoiled, like, of course I've seen a Broadway show I've been in six of them. And I realized it still is special. Broadway still is a really special place.
I am so passionate about live theatre. Now that I have a child of my own, I see how important it is to have theatre in kids' lives. We've seen such a diverse group of kids already and I'm so excited that everyone feels welcome to come try out. That's what made me feel really good, and makes me know that the face of Broadway is changing. I have all these kids coming out from all different walks of life, all different age groups, shapes, sizes, levels of experience. It's just been really awesome and it's just made me love Broadway even more.
Journey to Broadway runs August 5-10th in Bergen County, New Jersey. For more information, visit www.journeytobroadway.com.
Students interested in attending the program can audition on February 16th at Yamaha Music Conservatory in Fair Lawn, NJ (click here to register), or submit a video audition before March 1st to firstname.lastname@example.org.