Jeremy Quinn has big plans for the White Plains Performing Arts Center’s educational program.
The director — who has worked with Helen Hayes Youth Theater, Westchester Broadway Theater, Fox Lane High School and School of the Holy Child — wants to go beyond the youth-theater mold of simply cranking out production after production.
There will be shows, of course.
His Westchester Conservatory for the Performing Arts, which he formed soon after joining WPPAC in January, has already had a summer of productions: “All Shook Up,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Starmites.” This fall, he’s working on “Aida.”
But Quinn wants to expand beyond the traditional youth-theater model of teaching to the test.
He’s offering a three-day workshop on auditioning for seniors and juniors who are looking forward to conservatory auditions (Oct. 3, 17, 31).
He plans to hold improv classes, camera and voice-over classes, scene-study classes, a Broadway history class, and vocal repertoire review.
“We want to fill the gaps in their theater education,” he says in the empty 400-seat theater on the third floor of the City Center mall in downtown White Plains. “It’s about technique. This is not an extended birthday-party event where we do a show together.”
It’s a steep climb to establish a conservatory approach. For the most part, kids have been choosing which youth theater to go to based on what show was being performed. And there are plenty of youth theaters out there.
“‘Aida’ opened the floodgates,” he says. “They love it, they’ve seen it, it’s Disney.”
Quinn says the eight-week rehearsal process gives him the time to work with actors, teaching them to act while singing and dancing, something those rapid-turn-around programs don’t have time to do.
If you’re doing a musical in two weeks, it’s just not possible to work on technique, Quinn says.
“Even though it’s a musical, it’s all about acting,” he says.
But perhaps his most ambitious plan is the High School Theater Festival, May 21-23, an awards program with an educational component.
“I want to create something that’s more educational and more about the students and less about their over-budget productions,” he says.
“They register — as a group or individually — and come in and over three days, they compete against each other in a number of categories here on the stage, no sets, no bells and whistles, just them.”
The competition will include actors, designers, writers and directors. Categories will include best solo performance (musical and non-musical); best duet performance (musical and non-musical); best ensemble performance (musical); best student choreography; best student design (musical and non-musical); best student-written one-act play (non-musical); best student direction (musical or non musical).
Quinn is passionate about include tech-theater kids, too.
“Where’s their training? What’s happening with them?” he wonders aloud.
Including non-musicals sets these awards apart from the Metropolitan Awards and the Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Star Awards, which are geared to musical performances.
Quinn also wants the weekend to include a playwriting piece, with student scribes writing a play in 48 hours and holding a reading in the final day.
He’ll have seminars throughout the weekend and will invite conservatories and colleges to come to White Plains and witness the talent on display.
At the end of the competition, participants will receive a written critique showing “what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do better.”
The judges will be “legitimate industry people from the city: casting directors, agents and if I can get a Broadway personality, all the better, but people who have an interest in education.”
When they’re not competing, there will be workshops to attend, including one focusing on auditioning.
“Many of these kids will be auditioning down the road and many lack the training of how to audition: How to pick the piece? How do I present it? What do I do with it? What do I wear? How do I walk in the room? What questions do I ask? There’s a lot that goes into it?”
“It’s an educational-theater conference that takes them out of their element, out of their show, so that a judge isn’t looking at them in their gorgeous costume that cost $500 because the school has a budget of $50,000 and focusing on the person and what they can do.”
The awards nature is a nod, Quinn says, to the fact that all schools want to compete.
“But it’s also fun and healthy, especially in the arts, where competition in the real world is so fierce.”
Quinn is still fleshing out some of the details, but he says he wants the festival to be open to schools and students in the tri-state area, a broader reach than the Metropolitan Awards, which concentrate on Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties in New York and Bergen County in New Jersey.
Quinn made his Off-Broadway directing debut this summer with “Lights & Music,” produced by Fox Lane grad John MacDonald.
Last summer, he took part in the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, a consortium of dozens of directors who gathered for three weeks to talk shop, alongside Lincoln Center’s top brass, including Andre Bishop and Bartlett Sher.
All of Quinn’s plans come as the theater he works for grapples with major changes.
For two years, WPPAC — on the third floor of the City Center mall in White Plains, next to the multiplex — had been home to locally produced big Broadway musicals produced by Jack W. Batman.
But the financial crunch put an end to that rarefied goal: Banks and developers, who were eager to get in on the ground floor of an effort to bring Broadway stars to White Plains, got cold feet when the bottom fell out of their bottom lines.
Batman and much of the staff are gone, funding from the city of White Plains — which was $100,000 last year — is now limited to community grants to buy tickets for schoolkids, and the board of trustees is about to announce plans to present a series of musical concerts.
But Quinn is still aiming high, hoping that the classes, the youth-theater shows and the High School Theater Festival will draw crowds.
For details about the awards and WPPAC’s educational program, go to www.wppac.com or call 914-328-1600. Or email Quinn directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.