Aug. 13—YOUNGSTOWN — The lights in the Jewish Community Center’s multi-purpose hall go out as the audience waits for the show to begin. Twenty yards in front of the stage, about 150 children, many of them enrolled in the JCC’s ten-week summer camp, sit cross-legged in rows of ten or twelve, chatting quietly.
Behind the campers, six rows of chairs reach most of the way to the back of the room, many of which are occupied by adults. A long table leaning against the far wall is lined with donuts, pitchers of water, and small plastic cups.
Minutes before production began, Barb Wilson and the play’s director, JCC Drama Instructor Laney Sanger, rose to address the crowd, prompting a quick round of applause.
“We had two weeks to put together a musical that would normally take months to rehearse,” Sanger chides the audience. “So if you notice any missed lines…be nice.”
Wilson, the artistic and cultural director of the JCC, agrees.
“I love that you guys are already clapping,” she tells the audience. “Your job is to encourage the actors. That’s what we want to do for them.”
With that, Wilson and Sanger return to their seats, and as the music gets louder, several older campers take the stage, one or two at a time, most wearing shorts or bluejeans and t-shirts. roses bearing the JCC logo. They gather near the middle, two in front and five behind, dancing from left to right as they launch into the play’s opening song and dance number.
A few minutes later, with the first act of the show over, cast members jump off the stage, each landing crouched about ten feet from the children seated in front. A girl does a series of side somersaults, briefly obscuring her castmates as she cartwheels in front of the stage.
And that’s just Camp Rock: Day 1.
‘A ton of flexibility’ Wilson, who worked as a Head Start teacher and reading intervention specialist in Ellwood City, County Lawrence, before joining the JCC, now oversees instructors in music, dance, theater and visual arts as arts of the Jewish Community Center. and cultural director.
Wilson is looking to expand the JCC’s offering, which includes dance and fitness classes, an esports program, a ten-week summer camp and, as part of that summer program, a series of courts. specialized camps allowing children to explore specific areas of interest, such as drama.
The Aug. 5 show is a performance of “Camp Rock, Jr.”, a condensed adaptation of the 2008 Disney film, directed by members of the JCC’s Theater Specialist Camp.
“We wanted to do something that blended visual arts, music, dance, and theater to help them prepare for fall school musicals,” Wilson said. “For two weeks, three hours a day, we took 12 students in grades five through eight and put together a production.”
The program’s guitar, vocal, violin and piano instructors — all graduates of Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music — have worked with the actors in a variety of fields, Wilson says, including singing and stage presence. Dance teacher Hayley Gelzheiser, meanwhile, choreographed the dance numbers for the show.
The JCC Summer Camp, which runs from June to August, recently underwent an overhaul. Whereas previously students had to enroll for the entire ten-week course, now they can enroll for the week.
“It gives families a ton of flexibility,” Wilson says. “We’ve actually seen a huge increase in campers.”
Camp Rock: Day 2As the second act of the play begins, the plot begins to roll.
“You’re going to find your own style and your own voice,” Camp Rock’s chief counselor told a group of new campers. They’ll also find competition from the kids of Camp Star, a rival music-themed summer camp run by the Camp Rock frontman’s traitorous former teammate Axel Turner.
For a while, it seems hopeless. Axel offers the counselors at Camp Rock to double their current salary to come work for him, leading to several traitors jumping ship. A defeated head counselor tells the remaining children that the camp will have to close.
“I spent the night trying to find replacements,” she says.
Down but not out, the campers embark on another rousing dance number. “We cannot go back! they sing repeatedly, in unison, before coming up with a “top secret plan to infiltrate Camp Star”.
At the end of the second act, a musician seated on the right of the stage turns the large sign standing several feet in front of her in a rapid semicircle, signaling a change of scenery from Camp Rock to Camp Star.
Founded on Jewish values, however, the JCC offers more than just music and theater lessons.
There’s a Jewish-themed film festival and book club, and the JCC helps the PJ Library, run by a Massachusetts-based Jewish nonprofit, distribute free books to children in Greater Youngstown and of western Pennsylvania.
“We are grounded in Jewish values,” Wilson says. “These values apply to everything we do.”
Membership is open to the public, however, providing access to the center’s wide selection of arts and culture programs to residents of all ages.
Programming that includes visual arts classes taught by Nina Battaglia, a part-time teacher with a background in print and ceramics who also does marketing and curatorial work for a museum in Warren.
“We have a kiln, so we took many courses in ceramics, mosaics and glass melting,” says Battaglia.
Glass fusing involves putting pieces of multi-colored glass together and securing them with glue.
“Then we fire up the oven and fuse them together,” says Battaglia. “You can make suncatchers, pendants, keychains, and really any type of jewelry.”
Mosaics, on the other hand, are made by using the kiln to attach glass geometric shapes to a piece of wood or ceramic tile.
“It’s a bit like putting together a puzzle,” says Battaglia. “You are the only ones who invent it.”
Battaglia will teach a mixed media collage class on August 18 and plans to offer a workshop where students make stamps from colored leaves later in the fall. A two-day cider and ceramics course on October 12 and 26 will see participants making and glazing their own ceramic sculptures while tasting alcoholic and non-alcoholic cider.
“I feel like a lot of people are interested in the arts in this area,” says Battaglia. “That’s why I think it’s great that the JCC has an arts and culture program.”
Battaglia’s art classes are open to students of all ages and abilities, she says.
“Art is one of the most human things you can do,” says Battaglia. “Art has no age.”
His favorite part of teaching the courses, however, is the influence it has had on his own works.
“It allows me to think creatively. Everyone has different ideas and it’s very inspiring,” says Battaglia. “I always feel inspired after teaching a class.”
Rock Stars As the play draws to a close, a romance between two star-crossed friends – one at Camp Rock, the other at Camp Star – leading to a cute scene of one camper serenading the other while ” playing” a floppy orange prop guitar.
During the climax, the children of Camp Rock and Camp Star face off in an epic tournament of song duels and dance numbers. Choreographer Hayley Gelzheiser stands near the back of the room, mimicking the movements of the onstage cast and swaying to the beat of the music. The children in the audience stand and clap in unison as the Camp Rockers sing “This is What We Came Here For”.
Finally, the children of Camp Star close the show by singing “It’s our summer – it’s our song”.
Guitar hero Mike Miller has been teaching guitar and piano at JCC since September 2021. He was hired by the former director of arts and culture after seeing her perform at the DeYor Performing Arts Center in downtown Youngstown .
“I was playing ‘The Color Purple’ when I met her,” Miller says.
Miller’s guitar lessons are quite informal.
“We find a good time, we come together, we meet for a 30-minute session and see what we can learn,” Miller says. “It’s hard to teach, because it’s never the same for anyone. And man, it takes time. It’s a process of knowing who I work with, what they like and in which direction I can guide them But it’s a good time.”
“The time it takes puts a lot of people off,” says Miller. “But once you pick it up, the whole world is open to you.”
He’s had students ages five through 70, Miller says. But her favorite part of working at the JCC is working with the children.
“I never thought I would like to teach,” Miller says. “But seeing a kid learn something you taught them, especially when it’s something you’re passionate about. You can give it to someone. It’s like nothing else.”
“Art Can Be For Anyone” The lights come on as cast members gather on stage and wave.
Then, as the children in the audience prepare to leave the venue and board the buses waiting outside, Wilson begins the Shabbat ceremony by handing out candles, grape juice and pieces of bread. Wilson leads the campers as they recite the words honoring the Jewish day of rest, in recognition of the seventh day of creation, when God himself rested.
As the JCC’s summer lineup draws to a close, Wilson is set to release the center’s fall program, which includes an art exhibit by Nina Battaglia, scheduled for Sept. 13; two six-week acting courses, one a theater class and the other a musical theater workshop; and dance classes covering genres like ballet, tap, jazz, and hip hop.
There’s more Wilson wants to bring to the TCG, however, most centered around a strong emphasis on inclusion. A dance class called “Movement for All Mobilities” will focus on people with physical limitations, while a “Sensory-Friendly Sunday” art class will bring members in when the lights are low and “it’s really quiet in the building,” she said.
“We’re looking at doing a lot of accommodations,” Wilson said. “Art can be for absolutely anyone, so we want to make sure we make those opportunities available.”
To join the Youngstown Jewish Community Center or learn more about its programs, call the front desk at 330-746-3250, or visit www.jccyoungstown.org.