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Project to attract youth to the theater

By Lori O'Brien


SOUTH HADLEY Melinda Beasi and her summer staff of the New England Playwrights Project (NEPP) have an ambitious plan to educate and inspire the next generation of local theater writers and performers, beginning with a summer arts program later this month.

"The Pioneer Valley has a very active arts community, surrounded by some stunning natural beauty, which I think creates a wonderful environment for creative work," said Beasi during an interview with Reminder Publications. "Also, in South Hadley where we are based, we've met a number of people in the school system actively working to get students excited about the performing arts, which is a major part of our mission, so it's exciting for us to be able to be a part of that."

Beasi, who serves as NEPP's artistic director, explained that area youth have the opportunity to shape the future of theater in this country, and the NEPP staff hope to help them discover that potential if they are interested.

"Ideally, we want our program to be a place where a kid who has been scribbling songs in the basement with a guitar feels just as comfortable as a kid with years of formal training, and I think that ideal is alive and well in the Pioneer Valley," she added.

The three-week program is open to 30 area students, ages 13 to 18, who are interested in writing or performing new works, and exploring their own talents and creativity. Courses will be offered in singing, acting, playwriting and songwriting, with an emphasis on improvisation, collaboration and discovering the creative process, according to Beasi.

Students will be able to focus on their primary area of interest while being exposed to each discipline offered by the program. Participants will work on pieces appropriate for auditions, and the program's final class will be open to family and friends.

The program will be conducted weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at South Hadley High School from July 24 to Aug. 11. Students are asked to bring a bag lunch each day.

"We hope that the students will come away with a greater understanding of both the creative process and their own potential," said Beasi, adding "students interested in performance should understand better how to tackle their weaknesses, while also showing off their strengths in performances or auditions."

Additionally, Beasi said students interested in writing will discover how to express what means most to them through writing for the stage.

Beasi said one of her goals is to "create a safe environment for students to feel comfortable trying things they may not currently see as their strengths."

One room will be reserved for students to work on solo or collaborative projects outside of the official classroom, and the teaching staff will rotate in the classroom to make it possible for students to effectively study everything if they wish.

Beasi's summer staff includes Robert Klump, who has been involved in the arts and arts education for more than 50 years, and his wife, Jan Klump, who has taught voice privately for 40 years, as well as musician James David Jacobs, creative writer Megan Paslawski and actress Colleen Finnegan.

"We think this program will be a very unique experience for these children, and will help them harness their own creativity, and also learn to appreciate the value of collaboration," said Beasi. "For any student, we think our program can help them gain confidence, not only in their chosen disciplines, but in any learning environment."

Beasi added that for students who have a serious career interest in the arts, her professional staff can provide "real, practical training and advice for them."

The fee for the three-week program is $200. For more information or to download an enrollment form, visit