BWW Interview: Lori B. Lawrence of THE GROWING STAGE in Netcong

BWW Interview: Lori B. Lawrence of THE GROWING STAGE in Netcong

As summer goes into full swing, The Growing Stage, The Children's Theatre of NJ in Netcong has their exciting Summer Arts Day Camp for children from Kindergarten through the 8th Grade starting on July 9. The theatre's Educational Programming gives young people the opportunity to experience and actively participate in the arts. Classes and camp are open to students with prior experience in the theatre arts as well as those who would like to try a new activity. Lori B. Lawrence is the Director of Educational Programming for The Growing Stage that includes the theatre's Summer Arts Day Camp, Fall & Winter Classes, and their Broadway Workshop Series.

Lori is an Actor, Director, and Teaching Artist. A BFA graduate of Drake University, Lori studied at the Eugene O'Neill National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut and Le Theatre de Amandiers in Paris, France. As Director of Educational Programming at The Growing Stage since 1996, she oversees the educational component of TGS productions and coordinates our Creative Arts Academy sessions as well as the Summer Arts Day Camp, workshops and residencies. As a professional teaching artist, Lori has established year-long workshops for both public and private schools in New Jersey. In 2009, Lori was honored by the Morris Arts Council as the "Educator of the Year."

Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Lori B. Lawrence about her career and The Growing Stage.

When did you first become interested in theatre?

I became interested in theatre, specifically musical theatre as a young child. I was always watching musicals on television - The Wizard of Oz, Hello Dolly, Oklahoma, Carousel, Oliver, Cinderella - anything I could find. My first memory of actually going to a live musical was as a young child. My godfather was in a community theatre production of Carnival. I don't remember how old I was and I am not even sure I understood the entire storyline, but I immediately fell in love with the whole notion of getting up on stage and performing. I remember singing and dancing for my baby brother when he was an infant - he was a captive audience because he could not yet crawl away! My big break came in third grade when I got to play a black cat and dance the "Alley Cat" in a school play.

Why do you think that the performing arts are so important for young people?

I think performing is a valuable experience for people of all ages - it instills such a strong sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. For young people it teaches so many valuable life skills - discipline, teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, self-confidence, respect, responsibility to name a few AND also validates their creative voice. These are attributes that can be taken with them throughout their lives, helping them navigate any path they choose.

What do you think are some of the best lessons the participants take away from your summer camp?

First and foremost we hope that our campers have fun! We hope that they take away an experience that they are proud of and a strong sense of accomplishment. Along the way, we also hope that they gain a growing appreciation for everything involved in creating and performing a piece of theatre , the many jobs, and the work involved in the process. Many of our campers will go on to pursue non-theatre paths but we hope that their time here at The Growing Stage instills in them a life-long passion for the arts. In addition, I want to come back to the valuable life skills I mentioned before.

It is so remarkable to see these young people come together for a week - most of them strangers - and through collaboration, teamwork, discipline, and sharing of creative ideas, they are able, under the guidance of their teachers and the support of their counselors, to create and perform a piece of theatre together. That is at the core of everything that we do!

You have had fantastic roles at The Growing Stage. Tell us a little about being both an educator and a performer.

I am certainly very fortunate and grateful to be able to have a job that involves my two passions - teaching and performing. I find that I am constantly learning from our students. They certainly keep me on my toes! When you work with young people, you can never close your own inner child's eye that allows you to see things through a more honest, imaginative lens. Teaching directly impacts me as an actor - I believe that it helps me to be a better performer, to take risks and try things that I might not otherwise try. Conversely, it is my hope that when my students see me perform, that I can serve as a role model for them, encouraging them to take risks and to put themselves out there in a creative way.

We'd love a little sneak peak of what will be going on this summer at the camp.

We will be holding 5 one-week sessions this summer beginning July 9th and running through August 10th. Each week is based on a theme which ties everything together. Each day our students cycle through four classes - drama, dance, music and stagecraft. Campers explore support materials tied to each week's theme - poetry, Shakespeare, classic tales, contemporary tales, folktales - under the tutelage of our professional teaching artists and create a show reimagining that material. Each week culminates on Friday evening with a performance of the campers' show before an audience of invited family and friends.

What are some of the challenges of directing the educational program at The Growing Stage?

Time! There never seems to be enough time in the day for all we want to accomplish. Another big challenge is getting the word out about all of the things that we offer. We are not only a performance house, but we have a wonderful Creative Arts Academy which offers classes for students aged PK through High School. We also have a residency program available to schools where we send in a teaching artist to explore and to create a piece of theatre with students. Another challenge is to communicate the value of our programs. Circling back, I bring up the life skills I mentioned previously. These qualities are things that young people can gain, even if their future does not include the performing arts, to help navigate whatever career path they choose.

Tell us a little about your team.

I have a great team of teaching artists - Danny Campos, Jillian Petrie, Stephen Fox, Nikole Rizzo, Jacob Burlas - who help bring our programs to fruition! Each of them are wonderful performers, having performed on our stage as well as other venues throughout the area. But perhaps more importantly, they are very passionate about teaching young people, a pre-requisite for working at our theatre. They believe strongly in our mission and in the potential of every young person that walks through our doors.

Do you have any new plans for the future of the Educational Programming at The Growing Stage?

As an education based, professional theatre we are always looking to broaden our programming to meet the needs of our community. This past year we began our Broadway Workshop Series for our older students, bringing Broadway professionals here to Netcong to work with our teens. We will continue to expand on this program. We are also set to begin our Theatre Dance Program in the fall. A new, exciting program that will combine movement and storytelling, merging the world of dance and theatre. Of course we will be opening our 37th season of shows this October and all of our class programs will be returning in the fall as well!

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know.

The Palace Theatre, home to The Growing Stage is coming up on a very exciting and important anniversary. Our theatre building will be turning 100 years old in 2019! This building has gone through a few different uses in the last 100 years but we are so proud to be able to say that it has been returned to its original intent - a theatre for the families of the community and surrounding areas. This building is a magical place, with so much to offer. We are looking forward to a year-long celebration in 2019! Stay tuned for details! There something for children of all ages (including moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas) at The Growing Stage. We invite everyone to come and visit us to experience and create a moment to share with your entire family!

The Growing Stage, The Children's Theatre of New Jersey is located at 7 Ledgewood Avenue, Netcong, NJ 07857. Call them at 973.347.4946 and visit their web site at http://www.growingstage.com/.

For more information on their summer programs, please visit http://www.growingstage.com/summer-programming/.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lori B. Lawrence

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