April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Envision Theater Connects Students Near and Far

(Courtesy of Envision Theater) Theater is all about challenges and discoveries. “We love a good challenge,” remarked Rebecca Lopkin, artistic director and founder of Envision Theater, an educational theater company based in Teaneck. Those challenges usually involve figuring out how best to cast a show so each child is in just the right role or costuming a musical on a shoestring budget. Sometimes, it’s how to make the beast from “Beauty and the Beast” transform into the prince in front of an audience, which we did to many gasps and applause at Ben Porat Yosef three years ago.

This year’s challenge was unlike any other. How do we bring theater to children who are social distancing? How do we run a remote drama club? How do we produce a musical from home? Lopkin, a theater educator for over 20 years, said, “We took that challenge, met it head on and discovered something wonderful!”

Partnering with Caskey Torah Academy, located in Philadelphia and an Envision Theater school partner since last year, they created two new virtual theater programs that concluded recently to much success. Rebecca Sasson, general studies principal, reached out to Lopkin in early fall, explaining that her students wanted to join the drama club again this year, having had such a memorable experience last year when they participated in “Alice in Wonderland” with Envision.

The two Rebeccas, friends since working together at Camp Shoshanim, brainstormed. They settled on one fabulous idea, which blossomed into two fabulous ideas! They decided to offer a virtual musical for the girls in the elementary and middle grades along with a brand new offering—a play for the middle school boys. All rehearsals would take place on weekday evenings over Zoom—a fully remote theater experience complete with music, dance and acting from the comfort of your own home!

Lopkin suggested that the program be open to all the schools Envision Theater partners with as well. “Why not open the program up to all children? The incredible thing about Zoom is that children from New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York and even down in Florida can all participate together in one program,” Lopkin explained.

Sasson loved the idea and the rest, as they say, is history. Sasson, also a parent of a middle school son shared: “I was so thrilled that my son had something productive and creative to do two nights a week. He was able to interact and collaborate with boys from other grades within his school and boys from other communities. This really helped create a social closeness while keeping a social distance. We can’t wait to see the final production.” Her son Jacob said: “It was enjoyable because we could be in the comfort of our own homes while having fun. This is an activity we can only do at home and we could make a whole play just using materials from home.”

The plays were all recorded, shot scene-by-scene during rehearsals and at home by the children themselves, and are now being edited in anticipation of a special premiere to share the finished filmed plays. “It was fun making new friends virtually over Zoom, and it’s kinda neat being in a play with them,” Gavriella N., a fourth grader at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey said. “I learned some drama games, which was fun. It was cool being able to record our roles so it was much more like being in a movie. And the teachers were so nice.” Her younger sister, Naomi, a second grader at RYNJ, exclaimed, “I liked my part in the show; I liked the games; I’m lucky that I got to meet kids from places that I haven’t been to before; and the teachers taught us so much!”

Parents also raved about the program. “Thank you so much for all of the support you and your team gave my daughter during this past session of the drama class. This was definitely out of her comfort zone and we are so thankful she had the opportunity. Thank you again to you and your amazing and dedicated team! We look forward to watching the production!” said Nili D. from Hollywood, Florida. Rena N. from Bergenfield shared: “My children really looked forward to each class drama class. It was so nice for them to not only have a creative outlet but an opportunity to make new friends from around the country. It was like a virtual playdate twice a week!”

The first semester has just concluded with the second semester’s enrollment now open. Students from schools all over the East coast are signing up to participate in these incredible opportunities for creative expression and socially distant friendship-making. This semester the girls will be meeting Tuesday and Thursday and working on “Alice in Cyberspace,” a modern take on “Alice in Wonderland,” while the boys will be meeting Monday and Wednesday and tackling “Do You Read Me?” a martian NASA adventure.

Contact Rebecca Lopkin at [email protected] for more information, or enroll on the website www.envisiontheater.com.

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