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BWW Interview: How Erich Bergen & Friends Are Sharing the Magic of Stagedoor Manor with PLAYHOUSE

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BWW Interview: How Erich Bergen & Friends Are Sharing the Magic of Stagedoor Manor with PLAYHOUSE

Looking for a way to hone your craft and connect with Broadway talent? Look no further than Stagedoor Manor's new virtual performing arts education platform, PLAYHOUSE.

Made for the next generation of aspiring actors, singers and dancers, PLAYHOUSE provides a connection between young people and their favorite stars of stage and screen through live workshops, Q&A sessions and other digital programming. The classes are LIVE and connect the student and teaching artist directly.

Multiple classes are being offered by Broadway's biggest stars including Kelli O'Hara, Eva Noblezada, Denée Benton, Javier Muñoz, Taylor Louderman, Solea Pfeiffer, Alex Brightman, Corey Cott, Christy Altomare and many more.

Below, BroadwayWorld checks in with one of the program's creators, Stagedoor Manor alumni Erich Bergen (Waitress, Jersey Boys film), to chat about how PLAYHOUSE came to be and how you can join the fun this summer and beyond!


Can you tell me a bit more about how this idea became a reality?

My core group of friends from when I was 10-11 years old from my first summers at Stagedoor, are still my core group of friends to this day. It's still them. I haven't been able to shake them off yet. We're kind of still obsessed with camp... it's a little weird frankly. [Laughs] One of the very first things we talked about when this whole lockdown thing started was, "Oh god, please let this be figured out by summer because Stagedoor can't not open!" And you know, we haven't gone there in 20 years... but when the news came out that Stagedoor was not gonna happen this year, we were hurt as if we were going to camp this year.

And then three of us started talking and we said, "Can we do camp?" We were talking to Stagedoor and they were into the idea, but they had already been thinking about doing a virtual camp. They were thinking about doing something for their current roster. They put that together and it's happening right now as a replacement for camp. But what we then started thinking about is the silver-lining- we now get an opportunity to reach out to more people than ever because Stagedoor can only hold so many kids per year and there's a waitlist to get in. This gives us an opportunity to take that Stagedoor training and spread it all over the world.

BWW Interview: How Erich Bergen & Friends Are Sharing the Magic of Stagedoor Manor with PLAYHOUSE

And beyond just your friends [Jeremy Leiner and Dana Steingold], who have been a part of creating this with you, there are so many other artists that are involved...

It's interesting because when we were trying to do this person, I was thinking of the biggest Broadway names I could think of. We had Kelly O'Hara teaching a class for god sake! But there's something that I don't know a lot about, but thankfully other people working on this project with me do... there are people who maybe aren't well-known outside of the theatre community. Maybe they had a featured part in a show that ran for a month- cult shows like Be More Chill, Bonnie and Clyde... We're figuring out that these kids really want a way to connect to these people.

Being on Broadway right now is a two-part job. You have to do your part in the show and then there's this other social media thing that is extremely important. When I did Waitress I was amazed to see that there were people in ensemble who were so brilliant about connecting with fans. They would walk out the stagedoor and it wasn't that normal thing where ensemble members can kind of sneak out, not being recognized. They were just as recognized as some of the stars of the show because of that online connection!

Yes, social media has created a whole new way to be a fan of Broadway...

Yes, so for a lot of these people I was like, "Really, they're gonna teach a class? Do you think people will come? Shouldn't we go with this person who's won four Tony Awards?" No. And their classes sell out like crazy!

I've talked to a lot of artists who work with kids and something I hear over and over again is how much they learn from working with young people. Do you find that to be true?

I have found that working with young people is the great humble-izer because they're incapable of lying. [Laughs] Even if they're lying with their words they haven't figured out how to lie brilliantly yet. It's really interesting for someone like me, not only as a performer but as a producer... you learn what's interesting to them. For example, the response that we had for the Beetlejuice class was just insane.

I've gone back to Stagedoor many times and I've worked with kids at other organizations. I've found it to always be extremely gratifying and at the same token extremely frustrating. Kids these days have access to so many things that I didn't. They've already figured out certain things and they want to connect with you more so for support than for answers. I remember when I was a kid going to Stagedoor and we had people in the business come up to camp and they would talk to us about getting the job or what it takes to be a professional performer. Those were the questions that I wanted answered.

And now they have access to those kinds of answers at their fingertips...

Yes, what I have found now that it's not so much about the doing of the show, but more of a personal connection thing. They're connecting with a character and the artist and the artists online version of themselves. They're almost looking for support in their life and their own art. It's not like the old days where it was like, "Tell me where to sign up for the audition!" Sometimes they just want to say, "Thank you for being there for me." It's just a very different thing than I was expecting. It's certainly been wonderful to see.

I'm sure you have so many fond memories from your Stagedoor camp experience. Can you share one?

I had a horrible high school experience and I dropped out. That was not my comfort zone. Where a lot of people had great high school experiences, I couldn't wait to get out of there. Stagedoor was my safe place. It was sacred grounds and I felt instantly at home. Because I was such a terrible student in high school and bored out of my mind, I wasn't paying attention. I found a lot of my 'general studies' education came from working on theatre.

We were so lucky to have a guy named Michael Larsen. Unfortunately he's no longer with us, but Michael was the big wig at camp for the years I was there. When we worked on a show, there was dramaturgy work every single day. Working on Assassins was how I fell in love with studying history. Everything was so important because that was my school. I just know obviously taking part in group based arts education matters so much regardless of whether you end up going into the theatre as a profession. It has a major impact on how you deal with the world and how you deal with your job. Stagedoor was really important to me in that regard. I have lots of incredible memories, but I think the thing that stays with me the most was how much I was encouraged to think differently there. It's something that stayed with me all this time. Anecdotally sure there's hilarious stories... I saw a video of me recently doing "Barcelona" from Company at the age of 13. A song about a one night stand... I had no idea what I was singing about. [Laughs] I mean, it's just really horrifying.

Now I feel bummed that I missed out on the whole experience!

I think everyone has their own version of Stagedoor. I think everyone has that thing they were a part of growing up. Everyone has their version of that time in their lives when all of a sudden things started to click in and they discovered who they were. Stagedoor was not just jazz hands and fun. It was really important in our lives and who we came to be.

Well it's a good thing they still can! Can people still sign up for Playhouse?

It's completely open. We're an à la carte service, so you sign up for the class as it happens. You are registering each class on it's own so we're not a replacement for camp. And we're not just for the summer- we're here to stay. This is our launching off point, but we are intending to be here and grow and move with the times and be a place for people.

Also, one of the things we are really pushing is working with public schools, local community theatres, anything where we can find kids who don't normally have the funds to pay for these kinds of things. No kid should have to have their parents tell them no you can't take an art class because they won't have enough money for groceries. I refuse to accept that. So we've designed a business model so that people who can pay, pay and it pays for those who cannot and that only makes for a stronger community in which more diverse stories can be told. It starts from the ground up. We've made it our mission to make sure that kids who don't normally have access to this type of stuff do. We want to encourage that if there are people out there who need help or if there's programs that we can work with, we're looking to get in touch with those people. I think that's where the real work begins.


BWW Interview: How Erich Bergen & Friends Are Sharing the Magic of Stagedoor Manor with PLAYHOUSEPLAYHOUSE is the virtual arts education platform of legendary summer theatre camp, Stagedoor Manor, made for the next generation of aspiring actors, singers and dancers. Our mission is to provide a connection between young people and their favorite stars of stage and screen through live workshops, Q&A sessions, exclusive performances, and other digital programming. These classes are live and connect the student and teaching artist directly. For additional information, visit: https://www.playhousebysdm.com/


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