An Educational Theatre for Youth in Waterbury
A New Britain student is quoted on the Shakesperience brochure saying, The Shakespearean play that you put on today was better than watching television. That, of course, is a real compliment to this Waterbury based production organization and Emily Mattina its Producing Director. She and her husband Daniel C. Vollaro, C.P.A. (managing director) have been heading up this production company for the past six years. During a recent conversation, Ms. Mattina stated the companys primary aim. Our goal is to empower young people by making the arts and literature an integral part of every childs life.
All in all, Shakesperience offers play productions, residency programs and workshops in schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, reaching over 65,000 students. They hire actors and artists from New York and now have a large 5-bedroom apartment for actor housing supplied by the Codianni Family who own Fine Craft Jewelers. They have been so wonderful to us, said Ms. Mattina exuberantly in her Waterbury headquarters centrally located on Church Street. They told us that they were looking for an artist community downtown and we said, well, here we are!
Ms. Mattina continued that she always had had a goal of creating educational theater and retained that vision after receiving her Masters Degree in Shakespeare from the Newcastle-on-Tyne University in Newcastle, England. I grew up in Lenox, Mass. where I was involved in dance, with theater, music and the arts surrounding me. I wanted to give back to young people what I had enjoyed there.
She and her husband Daniel chose Waterbury to begin their theatre company because we liked what was going on here a Renaissance was going on and we felt Waterbury held many opportunities. We collaborate with the Mattatuck Museum which allows us rehearsal space in return for presentations there. We also offer a drama camp in the summer at the museum.
The Shakesperience approach to working with school children involves talking with students about why Shakespeares plays are still relevant. If we are talking about Romeo and Juliet, we would describe the two warring families and ask, where is that happening in our society today? Why do we still do this? explained Ms. Mattina. We also make it easy for children to participate in the workshops by having an open relationship between the actor and the audience, we leave the lights on, and pull them up onto the stage area. It is a safe environment, they gradually see that its fun and non-threatening, a confidence booster, and it empowers them to do anything. Once you can do Shakespeare in front of an audience, you feel pretty good about yourself and can do anything.
In addition to Shakespeare, the company uses other sources of material related to the curriculum. Ms. Mattina went on to describe a current eight-week residency program at Rotella Elementary Magnet School where one class is busy writing its own play based on an appropriate event in history, while another is basing their play on a story they have read. The residencies and workshops have evolved over the years, Ms. Mattina continued, and are now very popular. We were happily surprised by that.
As an indication of Shakesperiences growing influence, in addition to these local and statewide programs, services and events, she has been hired to teach workshops for actors in Santa Maria, California at a PCPA (Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts). The actors are prepared to teach our kind of workshops on their own. And it looks like I may go to Georgia to do the same thing, as well.
As for future goals, Ms. Mattina added, We have an incredible board of directors but we need to strengthen it and develop it by getting members from other cities and towns, new sources of funding and fund raisers and new grants. Our present supporters include the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, The greater Bridgeport Area Foundation, The New Britain Foundation for Public Giving and The Waterbury Foundation.
This winter new acting classes will be held at the Mattatuck Museum. They will take place the last two weeks in January and the first two weeks in February. To sign up or for more information call the museum at 203-7530381.
In closing, Ms. Mattina feels that her methods for presenting Shakespeare to young people make his work accessible to them. I like to think Shakespeare would approve of my productions.