BWW Interview: Jeanna de Waal Talks the Next Phase of Broadway Weekends & Offering Access to Theater, Community, Fun, & Confidence for All
Broadway actress, Jeanna de Waal (American Idiot, Kinky Boots) is using her love for theater, community, and self-expression to give back with her phenomenal program, "Broadway Weekends." Made up of a team of professional Broadway actors, dancers, and musicians, this program creates a fun, fulfilling, and safe environment for people to reawaken the theatre kid within themselves - from doctors to lawyers to parents and their teenagers. Proof that anyone and everyone can get involved and uncover their true potential and passion for performing!
The weekends include workshops to learn theater skills, tickets to Broadway shows, meet and greets with actors, and the chance to meet remarkable new friends!
BroadwayWorld chatted with de Waal about her vision for the program; putting it all together; and the beautiful transformations she's witnessed in the lives of her participants.
Congratulations on this incredible venture!
Thank you! It's been such an exciting year developing it and has been an absolute joy! I honestly can't wait for the workshops next year and meeting all of the new people!
Can you talk about your vision for the program?
I came up with the program, because one of my best friends is a yoga teacher and runs these boutique retreats all around the world - I went on vacation with her and she was describing what she gets out of it, what the people who come get out of it, and I thought to myself - that's how I feel about theater!
I got into theater from watching amazing performances, but a big part of it was being in a rehearsal studio with other people. That ensemble feeling, working through challenges, and performing together was a huge part of the reason that I fell in love with theater. I thought to myself that there must be a group of people out there who grew up in that same environment and would also love to do this as adults, even with other things going on!
I pulled some of my good friends together - - Alysha Umphress, Cody Williams, Isaac Alter and I said, "What do you think of this?" I printed out some flyers and went to BroadwayCon and started talking to people and asked if it was something they'd be interested in and what they wanted a weekend to entail. From there, we created the first weekend and it was just word of mouth and since then, it's been the most wonderful learning curve! We've held four last year and we are going to do five in 2018 and have loved learning about the range of people who attend.
Who do you see attending "Broadway Weekends?"
They've varied from people who once maybe held an equity card and were professional actors to people who just did it in high school and college, but didn't pursue it extensively. We've also had people who have never performed before. Some come alone to experience something unique and meet a New Group of people. We wanted to tailor the weekends to suit those different demographics. Next year, we have a variety of offerings - from those that are easy-paced to others that are more intense (laughs)! We're also doing a Mother's Day weekend for a really special experience.
What would you say to a newcomer to come check out the program?
There's no audition and we really value that our teachers can accommodate anyone in the class! Half of the fun is all these different walks of life working together. You don't need to worry about not being good enough!
The community that we feel is growing is amazing! They are so active and continue to stay in touch with us and we have people returning all the time. I really feel that we can keep growing this vibrant community to anyone who wants to take part.
The main feature of these weekends is that we put on an ensemble group number and what that means is learning the music, the staging, the choreography, and then polishing it before performing for family and friends. We have a videographer also capture it for anyone who can't attend. The weekends range from a two-day event to a five-day event and then depending on the length of the event, we round it out with extra dance classes, extra singing classes - sometimes we'll see a Broadway show. It gets filled out around this ensemble number.
We tend to choose shows that aren't "Hairspray" so that everyone doesn't come already knowing all the words. It's about learning the music together and we sort of take it out of context. The creative team gets together before and plans it out, based around the weekend.
Are there any inspiring stories you can share of participants who transformed over the course of the weekends?
We had one woman come who was close to losing her hearing, and she came as sort of her final time being able to sing and dance in a group. It was amazing, and I felt so emotional - she was incredible. We also had a woman in her sixties who was a research scientist and was too nervous to sing - and she e-mailed recently and said she's been taking singing lessons ever since and signed up for another weekend in 2018 and said that she is going to sing a solo!
It's been so lovely to get to know all the people!
How would you like to see the program continue to grow?
For the short-term, I want the community to grow and a big part of this is education. We want to let people know that this exists and is something fun! On the other side is developing the weekends - I'm so excited to bring in new teachers and create the new ensemble numbers.
For this year, it's about creating a brand in New York that theater lovers need to be aware of and be inspired to try. Beyond that, I really hope that we can take this regionally! I know not everyone can come to New York - that's definitely down the line!
Ultimately, it's about continuing to spread and share the joy!
The first "Broadway Weekend" begins in March. To learn more, please visit: https://www.broadwayweekends.com/
HOLIDAY CONTEST! "Broadway Weekends" will be giving away one complimentary ticket to each of the 2018 weekends. Enter your name or the name of a loved one for a chance of winning. Contest ends December 12th. https://www.broadwayweekends.com/christmas-contest/