South Carolina Students Take a Bite out of the Big Apple
I recently spent two days in New York City teaching and learning with 11 students who came all the way from South Carolina to take a bite out of the Big Apple. On Saturday, January 27, I worked with these dedicated students mostly focusing on interviewing techniques and marketing. The following day we all listened while director Frank Calo spent time with these same students talking about his world of producing films.
The trip was organized by Julianne Neal, the Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts for the Fairfield County School District (FCSD). This is Neal’s 30th year teaching in the arts. She has her Masters and certification in Educational Administration and owns JA Media Connections, LLC. She also owns Thornfield, a boarding/training farm. This was the 5th time they have done this New York City field study. The 11 students who came were from the Advanced Theatre Ensemble. They just finished their production of The Little Mermaid and they were the leads. This was their reward.
In order to make this trip happen, the students paid a portion of their trip, they did fundraisers for a year, people donated, the district financed a small portion and Neal received some money from grants she wrote.
The purpose of this excursion was to give these students an opportunity to experience New York City and all it has to offer. While some of the schedule is planned by the hosts, the students also get a chance to decide what things they would like to do and see.
Learning the Ropes
Workshops on Marketing Techniques with Diana De Rosa and Behind-The Scenes with Frank Calo
While my credentials include doing equine focused PR for over 30 years, covering 8 Olympic Games, traveling to over 30 countries to do stories, having worked with the late Christopher Reeve for eight years, being a SAG-AFTRA actress, writing for USA Today, having photos published in Vogue, People and other recognizable publications, being co-director of the EQUUS Film Festival and so much more, Calo’s credentials are even more impressive.
Calo is an independent producer and director who is best known for winning the Grand Jury Prize with his film, The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling and Billy Zane, at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. That film won all the festivals that year including The Berlin Film Festival. His film, Here & There with Cyndi Lauper and David Thornton won the Best NY Narrative In World Competition 2009 at Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film Festival in NYC. Calo is always working on a few films at any one time and at the moment is prepping for his next film.
Frank Calo in Action
Frank Calo Shares His Story
“You need to do whatever it takes to learn your craft and it takes time,” commented Calo while meeting with the students that came all the way from South Carolina to discover New York City.
Calo gave of us time and experience to share with these students, who were deciding what they want to do after they graduate school in the next year or two. Many of them want to get involved in the acting world. Some want to be directors, others screenwriters, stage hands and even support staff.
Calo used himself as an example for these kids to show them that if you are determined and willing to do whatever it takes, you will succeed. His journey began by arriving in NYC with only $40 in his pocket and no place to stay.
Home was a blanket in a closet until he was able to slowly climb the ladder. And that ladder included sweeping floors, running errands, cleaning up at the end of a performance and whatever else he was asked to do.
“You need the courage to perform,” continued Calo. “And you need the courage to fail as failure leads to success.”
Calo emphasized that if acting is your goal, not every person is right for every part. “It’s a lot of work. You have to put the time in and that shows that you love it,” adding, “It takes years to get a film to the silver screen.”
He gave an example of a skit he was directing about a plumber who comes to an apartment door and the reactions of the woman who answers the bell. The goal is to let the audience see what is going on in her head, that process of concern and fear. She is alone with no one around. Should she let him in or not?
Calo’s view was an empty room with no door. “That was thinking outside the box. Get rid of that fear factor. You have to have the courage to perform,” he remarked. The first person cast for the part just couldn’t do it, so he moved onto the next person who did just what he envisioned.
“As a director sometimes we don’t know what we want,” he added. “Your job as an actress is to be there.”
When Calo finally went out on his own he had the fortune of being the assistant director of Ghostbusters II. “When I got to that level, I realized what I still didn’t know. When you get to that level you need to listen and learn.”
Marketing and Interview Techniques with Diana De Rosa
My goal was to teach these students how to market themselves, making sure they have prepared things like a fast facts, a headshot that shows who they are, and even a press kit and/or resume outlining what they’ve done, their bio and what their goals are.
A fair amount of the time was devoted to interview techniques since one of the things these students are focused on is shooting and editing videos.
We formed a circle where each student began by introducing themselves and talked about their goals. Then we discussed what they should remember when doing an interview.
Being prepared by researching the person they will be introducing was at the top of the list, as was listening to the answers to their questions just in case that inspired some questions they hadn’t thought about asking. Dressing for the situation, arriving on time, giving the person they are interviewing a sense of how much time they would need, and other preparations were all part of doing the interview.
Afterwards, Alexis Broom interviewed me while Dillon Pullen worked with the camera. They both did an excellent job and proved they are already prepared for a career in the media, if that appeals to them.
This was not only a great opportunity to share knowledge but to listen to the minds of the next generation.
The Students do an Interview
Thomas Few wants to Experience Life on the Stage
What better way to talk about the trip then by hearing it from those who took part:
Thomas Few took away from all that he heard that you have to be willing to do whatever it takes if you really want to achieve your goal.
“Heart, mind, body, and soul are the key components needed to pursue a career in the field of fine arts,” commented Few.
“If you aren’t willing to sacrifice for your craft, then you really aren’t cut out for it. This trip made me realize that I have all of these components and more; that I want to be on the stage and not in the house. “Pursue your dreams and the treasures will follow.”
Jalin Irby is focused on Criminology
One of the interesting things was hearing what some of the students want to do after they get out in the world. Jalin Irby wants to be a criminologist or social worker. Why? Because she wants the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better.
“My goal in life is to live up to my purpose in this world. God gave all of us gifts and I want my gifts to impact the world around me,” commented Irby.
“When I arrived in New York, I saw life in different perspectives. My experiences there made me realize that if you really want to become successful, you can. First, you have to chase after opportunities to make your dreams happen, because nothing is going to come to you. Next, be open to criticism because it will help me become better at what I’m doing. Third, be patient because things can happen unexpectedly. When it is my time to shine, my roads will become clear and the possibilities will appear.”
Jada Weaver wants to be a Dancer
Jada Weaver really felt that this trip gave her a greater awareness of the world beyond Camden and her goal is dance.
“New York is such an experience where you see new things and meet different people. Everything is so diverse and not as many people are judgmental,” she commented.
“I personally learned a lot on this trip. Visiting the dance classes at Broadway Dance Center opened my mind and I’m 100% ready to learn more about the dance world.
“There are so many things that I didn’t know I was capable of doing that I picked up just by following along. It is in my heart that dance is what I want to do and New York is where I want to be. On this trip I learned not to be afraid to take risks. You’ll fail in many things but you can try harder to remain on top.”
Chantel Blocker wants to be involved in Television and Film
Like so many of the others, Chantel Blocker’s time spent in New York gave her the confidence that she can fulfill her dream.
“Being in New York presented me with confirmation of what I want for my career which is to continue and grow in the field of television and film.
“If I can take one thing away from this trip it would be that if you know what you want to pursue you have to do what it takes to get there. Nothing in life is handed to you; you have to work hard for what you want.”
The Teachers Speak Out Beginning with Melissa McCrary
Melissa McCrary is the Dance Educator. She is pursuing her doctoral degree in education. She always takes a group for a class or two at the Broadway Dance Center on these trips. She and the others are behind trips like these because she recognizes not only the importance for the students but the fact that without their effort and that of the students, this trip never would have happened.
“This trip provides opportunities for our students that South Carolina just can’t. These students are serious about the performing arts and what better way to learn than to be completely immersed in them for a week,” she explained.
“We had students take dance classes that want to become dancers and dance educators. That helped them realize the hard work and dedication to their craft that they will need in order to achieve that goal.
“We had a student who has a high ACT score and has been encouraged to apply to Ivy League schools and he was able to tour Columbia University and see firsthand the opportunities available for him there.
“We have students interested in directing and they had the opportunity to speak to a director with decades of experience and were able to be better informed about their career aspirations.
“As much as we try, we just aren’t able to provide these amazing opportunities at home. They are something that has to be experienced personally in order to have the powerful impact that they had.”
Percussionist and Professional Musician Tylone Love Goes from Student to Leader
Tylone Love is a percussionist, a professional musician and a former FCHS Theatre Student. He came out of Neal’s programs and during that time experienced one of these NYC trips as a student. Love continues to help his former teacher since he graduated and is Neal’s percussionist for all of their theatre productions, something that means a lot to him. Neal plays the keyboard.
“I enjoy playing the keyboard for our shows mainly because we have played together for so long that we can read each other. It's great,” commented Neal.
Love is also the percussion assistant for the FCHS Marching Band and comes in to help with that a couple of times a week. He continues to learn whatever he can from Neal, who recalls that when they came to NY on his student trip, he met Clayton Craddock (percussionist for the show Memphis) and that made a difference for him in reaching out for his goals.
"This trip was a great experience for me and the students,” noted Love. “It was important because of the opportunities they have in the performing arts. Experiencing New York City inspired the students to continue to work hard on their craft.
“The best part of the trip was learning the business behind the performing arts. We have very talented students in Fairfield and this trip has motivated them to achieve their artistic goals.”
Julianne Neal Leads the Way to Success
For Julianne Neal, trips like these are a no brainer and after experiencing five of them so far, she knows how important they are to helping students realize their future is what they make of it.
“I feel that the New York experience has been transformational for so many of my students over the years,” Neal said.
“The classes, workshops and performances that are available in the arts on this type of field study simply can’t be duplicated anywhere other than New York. We’ve had opportunities to take classes in vocal music and choreography from actors who will then showcase that very production number in a show that we see that night on Broadway.
“We’ve done workshops with professional producers and directors who are currently casting for films and have had the chance to hear straight from them what to do to prepare for a casting audition.
“We’ve learned PR and Media, stage makeup and stage combat, improv and scene work. These skills are impossible to learn through traditional classrooms, but through an experience such as this, students are learning to genuinely connect with people who are currently at the top of their professions in the arts.
“Whether they plan to continue in the arts after high school or go into other fields, these experiences will last a lifetime,” Neal concluded.
Neal’s next adventure with her students is hosting an EQUUS Film Festival Tour Stop in her town of Camden, SC. She along with a host of friends, students and volunteers use this as an opportunity for local and non-local residents to experience what Camden has to offer to show that even small towns can make an impression on the people who visit them. It’s a chance to take a bite of the “little” apple.
The EQUUS Film Festival Camden Tour Stop will also be an occasion for friends and family to see a series of short films produced with help from the student group. The Spotlight Rescue Series, a collection of short films about horses and rescue organizations, was a big winner at the 2017 EQUUS Film Festival in New York in November, coming away with the Best Documentary Series and Horse Hero Awards. The series is produced and directed by Neal, and this student group helped to organize footage, conduct interviews and edit credits on some of the films. For those interested in a career in film, it provided the chance to work on a feature length documentary series and learn a variety of production roles. The Spotlight Rescue Series will screen at Camden’s vintage Little Theatre on Friday, February 23rd at 3:00 PM and Sunday, February 25th at 4:30 PM.