NJPAC, Johnny Mercer Foundation give schoolkids chance to collaborate and create original musical

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“I think without music and art, we would just be bland,” Jordan Wallace, 11-year-old student, said.

Students from the Abington Avenue School in Newark are getting a unique experience putting together a performance from scratch.

“It’s actually really exciting, I love it a lot” Nayely Urena, student, smiled.

It's all through a program with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Johnny Mercer Foundation (Mercer Foundation/NJPAC Musical Theater Residency).

"Johnny Mercer was a mentor and songwriter active from the 1930s and the 1960s," Jonathan Brielle, VP of the Johnny Mercer Foundation, explained. “We took a program that we had developed at Georgia State and worked with the wonderful people here at NJPAC and figured out what the community needed and what would work here."

“Our goals in Arts Education is to structure our programs in a way that speaks to the student’s authentic voice,” Alison Scott-Williams, VP of Arts Education at NJPAC, said. “We want our kids to come and learn more about themselves through the creation of art.”

They work with teaching artists for ten weeks to brainstorm, research, write and rehearse.

“We are here to have fun, but we’re here to have serious fun," Janeece Freeman-Clark, teaching artist and director, smiled. "This whole program is about collaboration, which we all know is a life skill, it’s also about finding that confidence to speak.”

They don't just collaborate with each other, but four others schools as well.

“Every school writes a different portion of the story structure,” Freeman-Clark explained.

Earlier in the year, they all met for the first time, choosing Michel Jackson to feature.

“It definitely teaches you how to cooperate with people and how to listen to people better,” Gabriela Rodriguez, an eighth grader, said.

All the hard work came together for their final performance in front of family and friends.

“There’s just so much pride in what they’re able to accomplish," Freeman-Clark smiled. "So seeing how their piece fits in a much larger piece is always such an amazing experience!”

And something the kids will hold on to for a lifetime.

“It’s going to make me a better person and it’s going to help me with my dreams,” Jada Amanda Coe, 12 year old, smiled.


Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi