News Column

Kids learn to act out the states of mad, sad, glad ; Children get Broadway-style instruction in acting, singing, dancing [Evansville Courier & Press (IN)]

June 18, 2013

YellowBrix

The instructor lifts her right hand, then lets it drop again - left, right, along to the beat of the song. Facing her is a group of children seated in three neat rows, backs stick-straight, palms planted on their diaphragms. Breathe in deep. One, two, three. "Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Every morning you greet me."

A rendition of Julie Andrews' "Do-Re-Mi" from "The Sound of Music" takes place in a room on the other side of the warehouse, with even younger children lined up against a mirror, leaping forward one at a time with simple dance moves set to each musical note.

To the right, near the couches, instructor Alaxandra Traylor strums on her ukulele and with animated expression and voice inflection, leads the three toddlers huddled around her in "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

All around the spacious venue, various Broadway tunes, the art of whistling and choreographed dance moves engage excited, but focused and determined, children.

"My thing is, give kids an opportunity," said Michael D'Alto, who runs D'Alto Studio of Performing Arts with his wife, Jennifer, and daughters Amelia and Laura.

The studio's Broadway Boot Camp, in its second year, was D'Alto's camp offering the week of June 10.

There are four more camps scheduled throughout the summer - a theater camp where attendees write their own scripts and stage original productions; the School of Rock Workshop; Acting Master Class; and Summer Dance Intensive.

The 46 attendees for the Broadway camp - 39 girls and seven boys, aged between 5 and 17 - are trained in acting, dancing and singing, a combination known as the Triple Threat.

"They're going to find their way if you give them enough opportunities," Michael D'Alto said. "One day something piques your interest, there is an opportunity. La da da da da, OK!"

D'Alto Studio of Performing Arts is located in a warehouse tucked behind auto parts, motorcycle and surveillance equipment merchants off Stockwell Road. Starting out as vocal lessons for two children in the D'Altos' home in 2002, the program grew steadily and in 2009, had to move to larger quarters.

In March of this year, the D'Altos took over the 5,000 square- foot garage neighboring the warehouse and now hold sessions, camps and rehearsals in a 14,000 square-foot venue.

Inside, studio walls glow with an array of bright colors and explosive murals. At the heart of the warehouse is a giant black wall - used as a centerpiece for the "Fantastic Mr. Fox" production earlier this year - fading outward to reveal a majestic sunrise rolling over gentle hills, painting the sky a hundred hues.

On a typical boot camp day, muffled Broadway tunes and children's voices pulsate through studio walls and seep from under wooden doors.

It is a focused, intense five days of training. When children arrive on the first day, they are put through multiple rounds of auditions, which slot them into different categories according to skill level, but more so age groups.

"They do kind of surprise you as the week goes on and end up able to do things they didn't show you in audition," said Jennifer D'Alto. "Because (although) little kids are really open, middle school kids can be kind of guarded and shy at first."

For the rest of the week, children each learn five songs a day from a number of Broadway productions, switching studios and tunes every 30 to 45 minutes. A half-hour lunch break and short timeouts are peppered throughout the day to break up the routine for restless children.

But the five-song schedule is repeated each day, so children are able to learn the songs and hone their skills through repetition. A camper would, in a day, learn "Eidelweiss" and "auf Wiedersehen" from "Sound of Music" before lunchtime at 11 a.m., then "Consider Yourself," from "Oliver!", "Revolting Children," from "Matilda" and "Ugga-wugg" from "Peter Pan," until the day ends at 3 p.m.

"It's not just about practice making perfect," said Amelia D'Alto. "We're teaching them confidence in their ability and knowledge."

On the last day, camp attendees stage a 30 to 45-minute show for their families - a mashup of songs they learned throughout the week. The performance itself gives children the exposure of performing in front of an audience. That the audience is familiar helps put them at ease.

"I think a lot of kids are natural performers at a very early age and it's nice to reinforce that ability," said Michael D'Alto.

FUTURE TRIPLE THREATS

Ten-year-old Maggie Phelps wants to be an actress when she grows up, or own a dancewear website, if her first choice falls through.

Her cousin, 9-year-old Ashlyn Johnson, wants to be a doctor or maybe a detective. Both girls see dance and acting as the foundation for their aspirations.

"If you ever want to be in a Broadway play you need to learn how to dance, act and sing," said Maggie.

Four-year members of THRIVE, an award-winning competitive dance team partnered with D'Alto's, Phelps and Johnson are in the boot camp this year because they want to boost their skills in acting and dancing as they move in the direction of becoming successful triple threats.

"When you sing and dance, you have to know how to act with your facials," said Maggie. "If you have no acting in you, then how are you supposed to tell people when you're sad or when you're happy?"

For newcomer Grace Wolfinger, 14, the Broadway camp is one of two this summer that will help decide her path. While the D'Alto's camp gives Grace a chance to explore her interest in performing arts, the second camp, which takes children on outdoor adventures, will show her life as a camp counselor.

But like Maggie and Ashlyn, a main draw for Grace is to make new friends who share similar interests.

"There are certain cliques in school, but at D'Alto's there's a level playing field," said Erin Ivie, whose children, Katie, 12, Cameron, 15, and Rachel, 9, are veterans of the D'Alto's stage.

Not only have the Ivie children been given an outlet to explore their interests and express themselves.

"Performing arts, just like anything else, teaches you discipline, it teaches you preparation, it teaches you to deal with success and the right frame of mind," Michael said.

".. It's just learning to deal with success and the setbacks, and moving forward."

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