One hundred sophomores and juniors from high schools in New Jersey participated in Rider Presents, a musical theater performance program on April 26.
Meaghan Haugh

Trent Blanton, assistant director of Theater, looked out toward the group of 50 high school students standing before him and set the scene. “So, we are all going to a garden party. We’re in a nice garden setting. Everyone has on their nice spring dress or spring suit – whatever. It’s a nice spring day. We all have a nice cup of tea in our hands.”

Then, in unison, a few students picked up their tea cups, pinky fingers extended. Blanton continued, “You’re going to see someone that you haven’t seen in a long time across this space and then you’re going to fly to them. Have a little conversation. Bid them adieu. See someone else you know and fly over to them. So, you’re in a garden party and everything is very light, very light. It’s a beautiful day. Ready? See someone you know and fly to them. Ready? Go!”

Suddenly, the Yvonne Theater stage was transformed into a fast-forward version of a garden party as the students flew to each other, buzzing with excitement before fluttering to other students.

It was all part of a movement workshop facilitated by Blanton during Rider Presents, a musical theater performance program jointly sponsored by Rider University, the Lawrence Township Education Foundation and the New Jersey Education Foundation Partnership, on April 26 in the Yvonne Theater and the Spitz Studio Theater, located inside the Fine Arts Building. One hundred sophomores and juniors from high schools in New Jersey participated in the program.

The students in Blanton’s workshop learned about four elements — water or floating, earth or molding, fire or radiating, and air or flying — which they can use to bring their characters in theater productions to life.

“These exercises get you out of your head when you are working in a physical form,” Blanton explained to the students.

“We are very grateful to Rider University for partnering with us in this exciting arts education initiative,” said Ivy Cohen, executive director of Lawrence Township Education Foundation. Rider Presents was designed to give students the opportunity to learn more about musical theater at the college and to also highlight Rider’s Fine Arts program.

During the morning session, the students were divided into two groups and participated in two workshops. In addition to Blanton’s movement workshop, the students also had a chance to work on the musical selection “Listening To You See Me,” from the musical, Tommy, during the “Auditioning for Musical Theater” workshop, facilitated by Mariann Cook, assistant professor of Music Theater Voice, and Nathan Hurwitz, assistant professor of Musical Theater. Rider students were also on hand to help out during the day.

Later, the high school students had a chance to watch excerpts from the musical cabaret performance by Rider students during the afternoon session. The cabaret performance began Thursday, April 28, and runs through Sunday, May 1.

Participating schools included Lawrence High School, Robbinsville High School, Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, Abraham Clark High School in Roselle and Burlington County Institute of Technology.

This was Justin Giachetti’s second time participating in Blanton’s movement workshop at Rider. Last year, Giachetti, a sophomore at Robbinsville High School, participated in Shakesperience: NJ at the University.

“His workshops help me to get more into character. It allows me to think about how many different ways I can portray a character and how many different elements can define a character,” explained Giachetti, adding that he considers Rider as one of his top choices.

The Lawrence Township Education Foundation is a member of the New Jersey Education Foundation Partnership, a statewide coalition of local education foundations working to enhance public education in New Jersey. As members of the partnership, the local education foundation is offering this opportunity to the districts’ high school theater students.