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BWW Interview: Cara Scalera Directs ALICE IN WONDERLAND at The Growing Stage

Cara Scalera Directs ALICE IN WONDERLAND at The Growing Stage

BWW Interview: Cara Scalera Directs ALICE IN WONDERLAND at The Growing Stage

The Growing Stage, The Children's Theatre of New Jersey, located in the Historic Palace Theatre on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey will present their first Studio Series of the 39th season, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, virtually unlimited streaming April 15th through the 18th. The show is an all youth production featuring 18 performers hailing from Morris, Sussex and Warren counties.

Based on the book, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, ALICE IN WONDERLAND is adapted for the screen by Stephen L. Fredericks and Perry Arthur Kroeger, The Growing Stage's Founder/Executive Director and Artist-In-Residence. This production is directed and edited by Cara Scalera, The Growing Stage's Production Manager and Teaching Artist. had the pleasure of interviewing Cara Scalera about her career and the upcoming show at The Growing Stage.

Cara holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Kean University, where she fell in love with Theatre for Young Audiences. In 2019, she joined The Growing Stage staff full-time as the Production Manager, overseeing TGS's box office, volunteer corps, and performance operations. She has worked professionally as both an actor and stage manager, as well as a Teaching Artist for theatres across the state, instructing children of all ages in the areas of acting, playwriting and musical theatre performance. Named "Best Actress in a Play" in the 2017 Regional Broadway World Awards for her role in The Growing Stage's A Christmas Carol, Cara is passionate about sharing what she's learned from her time on stage with the young performers she has the privilege to mentor during productions. Recent directing/choreographing credits include: Shrek Jr. (The George Street Playhouse), Gypsy (Main Street Theatre Company), James & the Giant Peach (Middlesex County College), and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (The Theater Project/Bullet Theatre Collaborative).

Tell us about the first theatrical role you ever played.

My first role was in my middle school's production of Teens in Tinseltown. I can't for the life of me remember what my role was, I just remember I had to yodel. I had not auditioned for this production; I was much too shy to do so and, though I had been in dance class since I was three, it had not occurred to me that acting might be something I was interested in. As a twelve-year-old girl from New Jersey, I would not say I was familiar with yodeling, but I loved to sing privately for friends and family, so when the director (my 6th grade teacher) announced to the class that this particular role had not been cast, my friend offered me up as a volunteer. I was mortified! However, at the first rehearsal, it was like a lightbulb clicked on; I had found my community, and these were my people. Now, I don't think anyone would ever refer to me as "shy"!

We know that you attended Kean University. We'd love to know more about your education and how it affected your career.

I knew I wanted to study theatre performance early on, so I decided to attend the Southern New Jersey Academy of Performing Arts at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, a vo-tech that offered training in my desired field of study, as well as the usual academic curriculum. From there, I heard about Kean University from an alum. As a BFA Theatre Performance major, not only was I required to take performance-based classes, but I also received coursework in theatre education, administration, technical, and management, making me the well-rounded artist I am today. I am an actor, director, choreographer, dramaturg, administrator, and teaching artist, just to name a few things! In my senior year at Kean, I took a Theatre for Young Audiences course as an elective, which led to my discovery of and fostered my affinity toward The Growing Stage. I began working with TGS as a performer, which then turned into stage management and directing opportunities. At Kean, I also worked as a Front of House & Box Office Manager, so when a position with TGS became available that encompassed all of my talents and interests, I jumped at the opportunity to become a full-time staff member of this wonderful organization with which I had become enamored!

The Growing Stage is a very special place for family theatre. Tell us a little about the team you work with at the theatre.

The Growing Stage is such a special place for families and young audiences, and I believe the reason for that is because each person involved with TGS has devoted their lives to the development and enrichment of children. Yes, we are committed to entertaining, but more than that, we are investing in the growth of tomorrow's audience. We are a relatively small staff of only six, but our community expands to our fabulous volunteer corps, our Board of Trustees, and our funders, all of whom are proud to call themselves part of the TGS family. For nearly 40 years, TGS has been a staple in our region and industry, as well as in so many people's lives. We have generational audiences; parents who bring their children to shows and tell us their parent or grandparent brought them to see one of our shows when they were their child's age, families with grown-up children who haven't missed one of our holiday shows in decades, even current members of our staff and Board who were a "red" (our youngest group of campers) in our Summer Arts Day Camp and tell us about the interpersonal and communication skills they learned or how much life-long friendships they made have positively affected their lives.

What have been some of the challenges of doing Alice in Wonderland as a virtual performance?

This production of Alice in Wonderland is unlike anything The Growing Stage has ever attempted to do before and I'm so honored and excited to get in on the ground-floor of something new and magical. Each moment is a learning opportunity for the task at hand, but also in discerning what we can take with us into future productions. There's a lot of pre-planning that goes into any performance, but in this instance, we had our first (virtual) read-through, a fitting, and then the actors took every prop and costume home with them within the first week of having been cast so the actors could work safely with their materials. One also needs a lot of imagination in order to perform on stage and help the audience see something that's not really there. With this production, my actors even had to imagine the set and their scene partners! On more than one occasion, I said "just trust me here, so-and-so is 20 feet tall and behind you" or "so-and-so is going to evaporate in thin air just off of your shoulder into the mansion to your left."

This all youth presentation is a great opportunity for young people. How have rehearsals been going?

Since we wanted to respect safety concerns, we decided to have the performers film themselves at home, which means we're at the mercy of Wi-Fi. Thankfully, there were minimal technical glitches, but you can't pre-plan for someone's dog barking at the mailman while filming, or someone else's neighbor mowing their lawn during the climax of one, big, long take. These young actors, some as young as ten-years-old, have been total champs. I'm constantly pleasantly surprised by their professionalism and grace with themselves and their scene partners. It's been a privilege to watch the majority of the cast having grown up through our Creative Arts Academy classes and having performed in some of our Main Stage performances, as well. I often wish I'd had a place like The Growing Stage in my youth to have been mentored by adult professionals in productions. Opportunities to perform with people you look up to, as well as your peers, create dynamic artists, and it's just another one of the many things that makes TGS so special.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

Each performer was given a 4ft x 9ft piece of plastic tablecloth as a green screen, a cardboard costume, and a song in their heart in order to be able to create the fantastical production you will see. That's it! In theatre (and especially at The Growing Stage), we are an extremely resourceful sort of people, repurposing table lamps from our actors' living rooms and clip lights from their garages to create three-point lighting and using mom's work laptop or dad's desktop to film, as the actors all performed separately in their own homes. If there is ever another major global incident, I want to be with theatre people, because we make any situation work. We get the job done and we make it fun!

Can you share some of your plans for the future?

As the state continues to gradually ease restrictions, we are excited to begin exploring the possibility of an outdoor stage and welcoming families back to the Historic Palace Theatre. The past year forced us to think differently about many of our programs, and we will continue to those changes with us into the future. We will also continue to offer virtual field trips and programming in order to reach audiences and communities outside of our physical radius, and make major structural changes to our diversity and inclusion policies, taking a more active role in the national discussion. We pledge to find more ways to center more culturally diverse stories and artists in our work, to further our commitment to not only color-blind casting, but also to expand opportunities in production design and directing, and to invite and encourage more BIPOC voices within our Board and staff to ensure that equity and diversity is an active part of our decision-making process.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND will be available for unlimited streaming April 15 - 18. Streaming links are $15 per link. To purchase your link visit or call the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946. The Growing Stage - The Children's Theatre of New Jersey programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cara Scalera

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