Program teaches kids how to act

Iyeisha Barrie

Students at MS 424 practice acting.

MS 424 students learn to exercise mind and body

Jaylin Loveday has always wanted to be an actor. For years, he’s been begging his mom to take him to auditions, but he can’t convince her. This semester, the MS 424 sixth grader is finally getting a chance to express himself through the arts, and he now has big ambitions. “I want to be on the Disney Channel one day,” Loveday said with a smile.

The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, a company founded in the city 65 years ago, has made its way to Hunts Point middle school classrooms through its outreach program, which provides acting training to city youth. A Department of Education 21st Century grant secured by the school funded the program.

Over 12 weeks this fall, an acting instructor will conduct 45-minute lessons with groups of 10 to 15 sixth graders. Meeting once a week, these students will be working on the basic principles of the Stella Adler technique: controlling their voice through various vocal and stretching exercises; strengthening their imagination through poetry; and developing the personal art of storytelling.

“Outreach aims to empower participating students through craft,” said Jenna Bosco, a graduate of the Stella Adler NYU conservatory program who comes to MS 424 every week. “The main goal is to get students to start thinking about owning their voices and the importance of speaking.”

In a recent class, the students spread out in a large circle in the music classroom and began with various warm-ups and exercises.

“Why do we warm up as actors?” Bosco asked the students.

“To stretch out our nerves,” replied Omar Gains, 11, who was asked by Bosco to stand in the center of the circle and lead the group’s stretching exercise.  “I like the warm-up part of the class because we get to move our bodies,” Gaines said.

The purpose of the program is to give students another perspective and a chance to develop an interest in the arts. Stephanie Semidey, a computer teacher also known as “The Hub” at MS 424 because she is the center of so much activity, initially contacted the program.

“I was specifically looking for an arts program to bring to the school and once I saw Stella Adler on the list I knew that would be the perfect program,” said Semidey.

For some of the students, this was their first encounter with a program that encourages them to use their imagination and body to express themselves.  The adjustment was not easy for some.

“They try to play it cool, acting like they are not interested in the activities but you can immediately see their eyes light up when I asked them about poetry writing,” Bosco said. Student Michelle Frazier compared poetry and her interest to writing rap music. “Poetry is just like rapping, and I want to be a big rapper one day,” said the sixth grader.

Bosco had to take some breaks to keep kids in focus, or ask them to quiet down and participate, but she said she always expects some of that with kids this age. The school administration deliberately asked the program to work with the youngest cohort of students in the school.

“We want them to start young,” Semidey said. “It’s never too early to introduce them to culture, that way by the time they reach the eighth grade, they should be well-rounded in choices of interest.”

Some students clearly felt empowered by the lessons. “My favorite part about this program is that you get to participate and express yourself,” said 12-year-old Melody Barahona.

In one imagination exercise, Bosco pretended to pick up an imaginary rose, and then described the action and what exactly she was doing. She passed her imaginary flower to a student, and as he stepped into the center of the circle he turned the flower into a basketball with simple body movements.

The program leaders encourage kids to take theatre classes in high school, and planted the seed for 12-year-old Alexis Cifuentes, who said she hopes to attend a performing arts high school.

“Jenna is fun, crazy, and cool, she teaches us step by step to learn things,” Alexis said. “I can’t wait to take acting courses in high school.”

Bosco wants her lessons to go even further than that, by influencing how student carry themselves, how they speak, and even in small and big choices they make day to day. “By the end of my residency, I hope the students will feel more empowered to speak their minds,” she said. “I hope this will inspire a need to speak and be heard that they can take with them everywhere in life.”

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply