News Column

Seagraves works with stage greats

July 22, 2014

By Ashley Booker, The Garden City Telegram, Kan.

July 22--Brian Seagraves was standing backstage in January at the 2014 Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, after applying with 90 other teachers or directors for eight spots at the Fifth Annual Freddie G Broadway Experience,

While listening for the names of the eight people who would experience the trip of a lifetime to New York, the arts and theater director of Garden City Recreation Commission heard his own name called second. He was taken by surprise and remembers his head ringing. He questioned if they truly called his name. Next thing Seagraves knew, he was running out on stage and hugging the other teachers or directors who were selected.

"To have my name called, and know that I was going to experience this was just unreal," Seagraves said.

Seagraves, along with seven other educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country, were selected to work one-on-one with Broadway greats at the 5th Annual Freddie G Broadway Experience in New York City.

Their time from July 9 to 12 was spent in hands-on classes with leading Broadway directors, choreographers, producers, actors and designers. They also went to the Broadway show "Aladdin" and watched a developmental performance of "Peter Pan JR." Each educator also received $5,000 for their arts programs from Freddie "G" Gershon and his wife, Myrna.

Freddie "G" is chairman and CEO of leading theatrical licensor Music Theatre International.

"Mrs. Gershon and I provide this good time -- but teaching experience -- for the teachers in New York, by giving them a chance to go backstage and getting a chance to meet some of the composers of the shows," Gershon said.

Gershon says he and Myrna attend the lessons with the teachers, and many times learn things themselves. They both love to see the professionals and teachers interact.

"Having something that you can come back with that is fun but also educational is a very big part," Gershon said.

Gershon compares theater to the sugar that makes the medicine go down. In life, education is like medicine, and theater is a way to sugarcoat it.

"It's a much easier way to teach lessons, and Brian has bought into that idea," Gershon said.

Seagraves describes the Gershons as amazing people, with talented friends in the industry, and stories that could light up a room.

"It was such an honor to be honored by them," Seagraves said. "That was their whole goal -- to make sure that the directors and teachers who were there felt important, felt honored and appreciated, which was just very humbling and inspiring all at the same time."

While in New York, the teachers and directors attended a private dinner and were surprised by their special guest, Stephen Sondheim, an American leading writer of Broadway music. During his trip, Seagraves also experienced his first show on Broadway, "Aladdin." He even got to visit backstage with James Monroe Iglehart, who plays Genie in "Aladdin," and is someone Seagraves always dreamed of meeting.

During the workshops he was able to get advice, ask questions and hear stories from Tony Award winners and nominees. The workshops were led by Tony Award-nominated composer and musical arranger Jeanine Tesori, Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle, four-time Tony Award-nominated playwright Chad Beguelin, Tony Award-winning lighting designer Ken Billington and Broadway sound designer Matt Kraus.

Seagraves was amazed that even great people of Broadway have problems, and are human, too. Seagraves remembers Kraus telling a story about working with Liza Minnelli, when her microphone stopped working. In that moment, Kraus went on stage and handed her a wireless microphone, and she introduced him to the crowd. Kraus' piece of advice during his lesson is to always own the problem because the show goes on, Seagraves said.

Kraus also gave the eight educators tips and tricks of sound design, like making a microphone out of a coat hanger, or how to get sweat out of a microphone with distilled water and hanging the microphone upside down, or putting it in rice -- like you would a phone with liquid spilled on it.

"It was really great to be able to talk to people who were able to bring it down to a level of small-town theater," Seagraves said. "And, just because it's Broadway, it's not super fancy -- sometimes it's a coat hanger."

Seagraves can't pinpoint one experience from his trip as his favorite. Instead, the entire trip was a once-in-alifetime experience, and something he will never forget.

Seagraves is back home and already putting tips and tricks from his trip to good use for his upcoming summer youth musical, Roald Dahl's "Willy Wonka JR," which will be Aug. 1 and 2 in the Clifford Hope Auditorium at Horace Good Middle School.


(c)2014 The Garden City Telegram (Garden City, Kan.)

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Source: Garden City Telegram, The (KS)

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