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Pros give kids a peek at the arts as a career


CRARYVILLE — Ever dream of becoming a painter, sculptor, architect, photographer, novelist, journalist, biographer, poet, designer, musician, or a Broadway producer? A crowd of more than 300 students from 10 area high schools and middle schools came to Taconic Hills late last month to learn how to do just that.

Participating schools included Berlin Central, Chatham, Ichabod Crane, New Lebanon, Ichabod Crane, Germantown, Rhinebeck, and Pine Plains. Careers in the Arts Night was sponsored by the Berkshire Taconic Foundation. The event which involved 200 students, in its second year, attracted close to twice as many students, including many future actors and musicians, interested in careers in the arts.

“To come here to connect with kids is a wonderful thing,” said Jeffrey Levitsky of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation.

“The object is inspirational, to give kids the idea that there are careers in the arts. It’s a $10- to $15-billion-per-year business. There are jobs to be had,” he said. “Kids need to get a sense that there are places to go and that ‘I can do something.’ Tell kids how you got to where you are,” he advised the many visitors from New York City’s arts community, most of whom have first or second homes in Columbia County.

“They want to hear about your personal experience,” he said.

Broadway producer Tom Schumacher, who displayed his posters of  “Lion King,” “Aieda,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Tarzan,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mary Poppins,” understood just how to talk to students.

“What do you assume about someone wearing this costume?” he asked to make a point about costume design. His glasses had orange frames, and he wore a matching orange vest under his blue/grey and orange plaid jacket.

“You aren’t afraid of attention,” answered one student.

“My passion is the theater. Broadway producer is an odd job. You can’t apply for the position. We need to talk about all the stuff you can do in the theater,” said Mr. Schumacher. From a young age he said he took every gig he could get into the theater, admitting, “I may have told a lie to get a job — let your conscience be your guide — for the experience I needed.”

He acted, did restaurant jobs, moved to backstage work, like stage managing where, he learned, attention to high school geometry paid off.

“Every single thing you learn in high school is useful in the theater. Language and acting are the most important things,” he concluded.

Down the hall at a theater panel actress Fiona Hutchinson advised students on the importance of agents, talent scouts, and good photos. “Commercials can give you a quick way to hone your skills. And performing is a good start no matter what you end up doing,” she said. “Know your lines, arrive on time and be able to change according to what the director wants.”

Also on the panel was playwright and director Donald Steele, whose plays have been produced in New York City.  “Look at the audition process as a chance to act,” he advised. “There’s no perfect play. Directing is about problem solving,” he told future directors in the audience.

Producer Claudia Catania, urged students to search for the truest way to be themselves. She spoke of working in the garment business before finding her way into show business. “We often think we’re good at something, and we’re not really that good. You can bring a lot of you to your job, no matter what you do, and the more of you you can bring to your job, the better you’ll do.”

A panel of music producers discussed the independent distribution system. The music business has changed in recent years.  Many more records have been made, and that makes this a good time to be in the business because artists have more control. It’s true of classical music too. Even symphonies are producing their own recordings these days, and that could create opportunities.

Advice? You need to have a demo CD. Go to open mike events at clubs. Get out into rooms, and go to publishers, they told future recording artists.

Lighting designer Howard Brandston talked about the challenges of creating a new lighting scheme for the Statue of Liberty, only one of many architectural and artistic projects that took him around the world.  To light Lady Liberty, he was inspired while paddling around the harbor to mimic the dawn’s early light, which he realized was the most flattering light for the aging beauty. He too started out in acting and decided in college to switch to lighting.

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