Students Rise to the Challenge at Open Arts Alliance’s Summer Theater Programs

The Open Arts Alliance has settled into their home at River House Adult Day Care Center in Cos Cob, where they moved in 2021. The arrangement has worked well, not only because they had had done programs with the seniors there for years, but typically the River House programming is over for the day by the time OAA schedules its rehearsals. There is even an enormous stone patio where students rehearse outdoors overlooking Mianus Pond in spring and summer.

“It’s been great here at River house. They’re lovely people,” said OAA Program Director Jake Lloyd. “Donna Spellman, who runs River House, has some theater background and is sympathetic. They’re open to sharing their space when their day ends formally, so we get the use of big open space for dance and the grand piano in the next room.”

Jake Lloyd the program director at Open Arts Alliance makes his way through racks of customers at OAA’s offices at River House Adult Day Center overlooking Mianus Pond. April 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

Mr. Lloyd said OAA had a robust fall with numerous families, mostly from Greenwich, participating in three successful productions: 101 Dalmations (grades 1-5), the Addams Family (grades 6-8) and A Christmas Carol (grades 9-12), which featured seven performances at the Powerhouse Theater in New Canaan’s Waveny Park during the holiday season.

Mr. Lloyd, a writer and director who has taught theater and music in a New Jersey private school for 14 years, said OAA had a different emphasis on each of its three seasons of programming.

“Fall is considered an educational and growth season where we focus on individual performers, challenging them and working on them with their artistic growth,” he said. “There are smaller productions where we can devote more one-on-one time to individual students.”

Spring is marked by what he calls OAA’s main stage production, which he refers to as their tent pole production.

“It’s the biggest production, with most kids involved, and widest age range,” he said. “The focus is putting on traditional, splashy, big musical.”

In the summer, he said they select titles that challenge everyone a bit more artistically and as performers.

“They may be more out-of-the-box or less predictable. For the younger grades those sessions happen in two weeks and teach the skill of putting up a performance in a shortened and intense amount of time.”

Today, OAA is in the midst of tech week for Cinderella, the annual main stage production that opens later this month.

Cast in December, Cinderella will be performed at the Powerhouse Theater in New Canaan. About 150 youth auditioned and about 65 were cast. The show opens on April 28 and there are three casts. Tickets are on sale online.

“For the big spring tent pole production, everyone is in the show, but they do audition. We want our kids to recognize that all roles in a show are necessary and important. One time you may be in the chorus, and the next time you may be cast in the lead or as the love interest,” Lloyd explained. “We want a healthy balance in terms of where kids end up in a show, because that’s training for the real world.”

“We want to know you’re on board for the artistic experience, not just because you have the lead,” he added. “Everybody gets their moment to shine if they put in the work.”

“A goal at OAA is to step up the artistic level of what we’re doing and take the kids who have brought their A-game and can deliver and give us a high level performance,” Lloyd said. “We’re hoping to build multiple seasons of the year so that people can participate in all three productions, but have options, rather than one show a year.”

Jake Lloyd said in summer and fall, Open Arts Alliance makes good use of the giant patio at River House Adult Day Center overlooking Mianus Pond. April 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

“Looking to the summer season 2022, in addition to Aladdin and A Christmas Story, the older kids will do a production of Sweeney Todd, which is probably the most artistically challenging production we’ve done to date,” Lloyd said.

He described Sweeney Todd was challenging because the late composer Stephen Sondheim not only wrote challenging music – harmonically and thematically – but the subjects are deep and require an intense look at the human condition.

“This takes us out of that Disney realm and brings us to the murderous barbers of London,” he said.

Mr. Lloyd believes that giving the older students an opportunity to tackle more mature subject matter is important to them especially as it relates to their critical development as independent thinkers and their growing  awareness of the world around them.

In addition to himself, Mr. Lloyd said OAA has invited some new directors from New York City. “This will give the kids an opportunity to learn from different artistic styles, and experience visions and points of view from other directors.”

Sweeney Todd has a sizeable cast because it has a full traditional chorus and seven or eight lead characters.

“I’m personally excited to direct it. I have a fun vision I’m looking forward to bringing to it, and seeing the kids do something that’s above them right now, but that they will rise to,” he explained. “That’s what it’s all about, because you put something beneath kids or at their level, and they will perform well, but won’t experience growth.”

“That’s both the joy and the challenge of working with young people,” he added. “You have to put the challenge before them, dig in your heels for a little while, and then bask in the accomplishment at the end.”

Mr. Lloyd said he and OAA executive director Rocco Natale are both excited for the summer programs.

“Some of these kids have been with Rocco for five, six or seven years,” said Lloyd who is starting his second year at OAA. “Working with different talents and sensibilities, we’ll continue to challenge them as performers and give them more real world experience.”

For more information and to register for summer programs at Open Arts Alliance, click here.

Mr. Lloyd explained that participants register and auditions happen afterward.

“Everyone gets in and then we place everyone,” he explained. “That’s how summer and fall work.”

Open Arts Alliance is based out of River House Adult Day Center overlooking Mianus Pond. April 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Arts Alliance makes good use of the patio at River House Adult Day Center. April 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager