Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:00
Michelle Vivona remembers being a shy child. The only time she wasn’t was when she was dancing, something she did a lot since her parents owned a dance studio. When she saw how much her already outgoing daughter flourished taking classes at Drama Kids, she wondered how much a program like that would have helped her as a child. So, she and her husband, Jerome, decided to open their own Drama Kids chapter.
“I was so drawn to it from my background in theater and in being such a shy child,” Michelle said. “It’s a safe and a positive place for children to explore and express themselves. It’s wonderful to see the progression in the kids, as both a teacher and parent.”
Unlike other acting programs, Drama Kids isn’t performance based and students aren’t cast in a play they work on for months at a time. At Drama Kids, which is an international franchise, the focus is building children’s confidence in their speaking skills through acting exercises and play. Children ages four to 18 engage in different exercises once a week. At every hour long class, they may do a new scene with a partner, or work with the whole class while the teacher directs. Older students do improv games and scenes.
The classes give both shy and outgoing children the chance to express themselves creatively, as well as learn public speaking skills they can use for a lifetime.
Brielle Wiener spent seven years in the Drama Kids program and is now a junior theater major at New Paltz. She was always interested in acting, and Drama Kids was a way for her to get better at public speaking and interacting with others.
“I learned how to memorize monologues and be in scenes with people and think on my feet,” Wiener said.
Now, as a junior theater major at SUNY New Paltz, she still uses skills and improv games she learned at Drama Kids in her classes.
“I learned how to focus and get into character at Drama Kids, so that helps me in school,” Wiener said. “It helps me work better in groups of people when it comes to acting.”
While some students do join Drama Kids to pursue theater dreams, Michelle says that the program is “great for all different types of kids. This is a way for kids to express themselves and have fun and gain new skills.”
The Vivonas had been running Drama Kids out of Gymboree at the Source Mall for the past several years. A month ago, they bought the American Theater Dance Workshop, a studio at the Herricks Community Center in New Hyde Park they’ve been teaching dance at, and decided to move Drama Kids there.
The Vivonas are hoping that making Drama Kids part of the American Theater Dance Workshop program will encourage students to try different classes such as ballet, musical theater, tap and creative dance. Dancers are also encouraged to try drama classes.
“Dancing is such a wonderful form of expression. Acting with dance goes hand in hand, it’s just another way to express yourself. And when you’re dancing you’re acting as well,” Michelle says. "I was a dancer as a young child, but once I started acting I loved it. So hopefully some other children will feel that way.”
This year, Michelle with teach Drama Kids classes, though in the past Jerome and other teachers have also led classes. The two have extensive performance histories, and met while working in Paris on a production of West Side Story.
Michelle has been dancing since she was four and has been in productions of On Your Toes and 42nd Street. She has also graced the Broadway stage, in Sweet Charity, Anything Goes, Gypsy and Thoroughly Modern Millie as well as dancing as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Jerome trained as a ballet dancer, performing on stages nationally and around the world, including in Broadway productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Suessical and Kiss Me, Kate. The two have been Westbury residents for over a decade.
Find out more about Drama Kids at dramakids.com/ny1.