Archive for 2019

Paper Mill Playhouse Introduces Musical Theater Common Prescreen

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By Stephen Agosto
Senior Manager of Artistic Engagement, Paper Mill Playhouse

Since 2015, there has been a 66% increase in total submissions to college-level musical theatre programs. For early vetting in these institutions, students must submit video auditions for consideration to schools, each with its own audition criteria—leading students to create several (sometimes upwards of 30) media files to qualify for application.

On June 26, 2019, Paper Mill Playhouse announced a collaboration with top-tier university musical theatre programs and several online arts platforms to introduce universal criteria for video submissions, called the Musical Theater Common Prescreen. Behind the scenes, Stephen Agosto, Senior Manager of Artistic Engagement at Paper Mill, has been working on this project for the last three years. Here, Stephen shares his experience from fledgling idea to powerful initiative.

I’ve worked for Paper Mill Playhouse as a teaching artist for 12 years but only came on as a full-time staff member in 2017. Prior to my staff position, I was writing curriculum and teaching musical theater for the NYC Department of Education. While working with inner city youth, it became clear to me that the college audition process was overwhelming—for applicants, families, and teachers alike. As I observed our public school students work to create video after video—each with different audition criteria—I noticed not only how exhausting it was, but also how exclusive the process had become. Students who were underserved didn’t have the resources necessary to complete the complicated and arduous prescreen process, whereas students of means were hiring college audition coaches and booking time in studios to create a professional audition reel. I felt that if there was a way to streamline the audition process for college musical theater programs, it would relieve stress on students, teachers, and parents, as well as promote diversity at the collegiate level.

In early 2018, I began having discussions with Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee and Director of Education Lisa Cooney about ways we could improve the college audition process. A chance conversation with Courtney Young (Coordinator of Musical Theatre at Ithaca College), who was serving as associate director of our 2018 production of The Sting, led me to key educators Kaitlin Hopkins (Head of Musical Theatre, Texas State) and Amy Rogers (Director of Musical Theater, Pace University) for input, answers, and connections. The online platform Acceptd supplied crucial data and supported us as we began to further understand how complicated this process had become.

A year of conversations and brainstorming led us to January 2019, when Paper Mill hosted two roundtable discussions, one in New York City and one in Chicago. I was able to represent Paper Mill as a neutral party, coming from the perspective of a producing artistic entity in search of trained talent. Because Paper Mill seeks to tell the stories of all groups of people, we need talent that represents and relates viscerally to those experiences. The heads of these various programs overwhelmingly agreed. Through these facilitated conversations, we were able to reverse-engineer audition criteria that met the needs of each institution. A month later I drafted the first copy of the Musical Theater Common Prescreen. Six weeks of revisions later, we were ready to share our initiative with prospective arts applicants and musical theater educators nationally.

We launched in June with 20 universities. In two weeks, we had 31 schools and, as of August 1,  we have 40 participating institutions. The guidelines currently cover song and monologue requirements. In January of 2020, we will meet again to add dance guidelines.

The more I’ve worked on this project, the more I realize that talent is handed out liberally, but opportunity is not. We have found real allies in countless university educators that are working daily to positively impact the next generation of artists. If Paper Mill can be a resource in promoting opportunity in this field, then we are one step closer to proving our own mission statement—providing access for all.


Stephen Agosto serves as Senior Manager of Artistic Engagement at Paper Mill Playhouse recipient of the 2016 TONY award for Best Regional Theater. He is a member of the artistic team that has shepherded such musicals as The Honeymooners, The Sting (starring Harry Connick Jr.), Benny & Joon, and Half Time (directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell). Stephen’s long career in arts education includes programming and curriculum consultation for numerous educational institutions including the New York City Department of Education and the Maine Arts Academy. For five years he led the Musical Theatre Department at Talent Unlimited High School where he and his students were Circle in the Square “Teens on Broadway” honorees, recipients of “Special Honors” from the Gershwin Theatre Awards, and recipients of The Shubert Organization High School Theatre Award (Top Honors). He is currently an adjunct professor of theatre at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University and a frequent master instructor for The Growing Studio NYC. He is the co-founder/conceiver of Paper Mill Prep, a program to prepare students and their families for college BFA auditions. Prior to directing, Stephen enjoyed a career as an actor, having been seen regionally, on tour, and in New York City in over 40 plays and musicals. He is a graduate of The Neighborhood Playhouse, home of The Meisner Technique.

Federal Legislative Priorities

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Click the image below to learn more about the legislation Americans for the Arts is actively pushing to further the creative industries across the country.









Then, click here to learn the latest status of each bill and to take action by contacting your members of Congress to support these bills.

Five Years and Counting! OR The Struggle to Get a Licensure Bill Signed into Law

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By Tina Erfer, MS, BC-DMT, LCAT, NCC
Representative, N.J. Task Force for Licensure of Drama Therapists and Dance/Movement Therapists

This journey began five years ago. I was President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association. I received a phone call from a New Jersey drama therapist, who asked me if I wanted to work with her toward the important goal of creating a N.J. State License for Drama Therapy and Dance/Movement Therapy. We gathered a team of dedicated professionals who became the N.J. Task Force for Licensure of Drama Therapists and Dance/Movement Therapists.

Why is it important to license these professions? Drama therapy and dance/movement therapy are behavioral health disciplines that integrate psychotherapeutic principles with theater, dance/movement, and the creative process. Fundamental mental health, psychological, developmental, and mind/body principles are utilized to support the emotional, physical, cognitive, and social well-being of individuals, families, and groups across the lifespan.

We work with those who are often the most vulnerable citizens of the state, including veterans; those with Alzheimer’s, developmental disabilities, or autism; and those who suffer from domestic violence, child abuse, or substance abuse. A N.J. state license will protect these consumers from possible harm by unlicensed and untrained practitioners.

Establishing a hard-working, focused, passionate, and dedicated team was the easy part. Moving our licensure bill forward, step by step, became a rollercoaster of highs and lows, of successes and failures. Time seems to move very slowly in the legislative process! And having any control over what happens is often just an illusion.

Our process began with meetings with Assembly sponsors and the writing of the bill itself, which went through several versions. There was the excitement of having legislators really listen to what we had to say and express support for our bill. We left those meetings feeling elated!

Sometimes, the legislative process does work as it was designed to, and we felt that we were well on our way to a meaningful and successful outcome.

But then, there was the waiting, and waiting, and waiting—for return phone calls, emails, or the votes in the Assembly or Senate. Return calls never came. Emails did not receive responses. Promises were made that the bill would be placed on the agenda for a vote.

We worked hard, spreading the word to our supporters, urging them to contact their legislators and ask them to VOTE YES on our bill. So much work in so little time! Over and over again. And there were many times that the bill just was not voted on, for reasons we often never knew.

Other challenges we faced in this tedious process included having the bill make it all the way to the governor’s desk, but not be signed, therefore causing us to need to start all over again in the new legislative session. There have also been numerous occasions where we tried furiously to find out whom to talk to regarding what our next steps should be. It was difficult to get answers to our most pressing questions. Often, weeks and months would go by between each step along the way.

Finally, our bill found its way to the next governor’s desk, only to be met with a conditional veto. We were surprised by this, but, after careful review and consideration, decided that we would accept the recommendations of the governor. Here again, we were told that it was likely that our bill would be voted on in the Assembly before the summer recess, but, alas, this did not happen. The story continues….

It has definitely been a learning process for all of us. Our team continues to spend countless hours on conference calls, reviewing recent developments, and planning next steps. It is a long, often exhausting process, but one that we know is worth it. There are so many who will benefit from the effective services that drama therapists and dance/movement therapists have to offer once the license is in effect.

Our task force is grateful for the support of ArtPride’s Director of Advocacy & Public Policy, Ann Marie Miller. Whenever we reach out to her, in need of a way to contact the community at large, often immediately, Ann Marie comes through for us. She and her staff have created ways for us to reach a wider audience with our requests for contacting legislators—enhancing the effectiveness of our campaign greatly. We know we are not alone in the belief in the power of the arts to heal.


Tina Erfer, MS, BC-DMT, NCC, LCAT, is a board-certified Dance/Movement Therapist, licensed Creative Arts Therapist, and National Certified Counselor. For 37 years, she has worked as a dance/movement therapist in educational and psychiatric settings. Tina has served on the Board of Directors of the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) and is past President of the NY and NJ Chapters of the ADTA. Tina is one of the founding members of a task force working towards state licensure for dance/movement therapists and drama therapists in New Jersey.


Unexpected and Welcome Connections

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By Betsy Sobo,
Executive Director, 10 Hairy Legs

10 Hairy Legs, the New Jersey-based dance company for whom I am the founding Executive Director, is headed to The Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts (KYGSA) in July 2019 as a guest artist for Musical Theatre and Dance and to perform for their student body.

“How did that happen?” you might ask.

Photo: Mike Esperanza

Unexpected and welcome connections!

In March 2017, I headed down to Washington, D.C. as a N.J. delegate with ArtPride to the National Arts Advocacy conference, my first. I was fired up, as once again the National Endowment for the Arts had become a political football and was on the federal budget chopping block. I had a hard time keeping up with the other more experienced and intrepid souls. I was very proud of the esteem in which our delegation was held, and we were well trained and organized. Our efforts were not in vain, as we met with our legislators and, yes, funding was restored. We could rest… for a little while.

I also attended several conference sessions at the Shoreham Hotel, thrilled at being in an energized space with fierce arts advocates from around the country. During a brief pit stop at the hotel, I noticed a young woman and could not stop myself from asking her, “You’re a dancer, aren’t you?” A dancer can always tell when someone else is a dancer – there’s something in the way a dancer holds him/herself, a carriage, a “look”– an inherent ability to gracefully navigate seemingly random walking patterns in crowds with ease.

She was indeed, and introduced herself as Erin Quinlan, Sr. Manager at KYGSA. Cards were exchanged, and she revealed that she had heard of the good work the company is doing in the field. Dance education is an extremely important part of our mission and vision – we cultivate the next generation of dance audience/artists/board members/patrons – and I was excited to learn of the program at KGSA and ponder the potential for partnering with them.

Back in N.J., I felt a great sense of accomplishment and of course, got right back to work. I dropped a note to Erin, telling her how great it was to meet her, added her to our contact list, invited her to our performances, and researched further about KYGSA. I also became more politically active in general.

Fast forward to January 2019, following extensive expansion of 10HL’s footprint on tour nationally. In my inbox was an email from KGSA Director Nick Covault inquiring if 10HL might be interested in working with their students this summer.

And off we go, to inspire 250 talented and motivated budding performing artists (and perhaps dance audience/artists/board members/patrons)!

15,000+ steps a day in D.C., eight hours of driving to and from the conference, reinvigorated respect for my colleagues, funding restored, and a great gig for 10 Hairy Legs!

Note: Even the restroom is fair ground! Follow your instincts and go! Connect, connect, connect! Vigilance!


Elizabeth Shaff Sobo is a fundraising and vision-planning professional with more than 30 years of experience working in the not-for-profit and public sectors. Betsy is a passionate believer that the arts are integral to our lives, and can be a transformative force for communities when managed organically as a response to need and opportunity. She served as Director of Development at Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ, and held positions in arts education, fundraising and marketing at The State Theatre Regional Arts Center at New Brunswick (NJ), American Repertory Ballet, New Jersey Ballet, and Ballet Hispanico. She serves on the NJPAC Dance Advisory Committee, and was a board member of Nimbus Dance Works from 2011-2014 (serving as President from 2012-2014), Randy James Dance Works from 2005-2007, and Dance New Jersey from (2009-2016). Her professional dance career included Pennsylvania Ballet, Les Compagñons de la Danse (Montréal), and New Jersey Ballet. Betsy was awarded a Certificate in Arts Administration from New York University. | @10HairyLegs

An Arts Advocacy Journey

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By Zach Bates,
Thespian Advisor at Gloucester County Institute of Technology & Officer on N.J.Thespian State Board
Recipient of Distinguished Arts Advocate Award, 39th Annual Governors Awards in Arts Education

Arts Advocate is never a title I thought I would hear when someone described me.

Growing up, I always enjoyed being in plays and watching a few musicals, but never once did I think I would be getting on a train to D.C. one to two times a year and talk to members of the U.S. Congress about the importance of the arts.

Hello! My name is Zach Bates. I am an alumnus of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology (2013) in Sewell, New Jersey. I am a volunteer Thespian Advisor for the school. I serve on the New Jersey State Thespian Board and wear many hats – including Outreach Co-Chair, Fundraising Chair, Safety & Security Chair – but the one I am most proud of is the position we started before this school year, Arts Advocacy Chair. Holding this title, I was selected to a national committee through the Educational Theatre Association’s Advocacy Leadership Network as the New Jersey Representative. This year, I was named the Career & Technical Education Committee Co-Chair with the Georgia Representative.

In the summer of 2017, I attended the first EdTA (Educational Theatre Association) Advocacy Day. Having some knowledge of politics and being a history major in college, I planned the visits for myself and three other N.J. representatives who attended the event. We attended a full day of workshops before going to Capitol Hill.

And that’s when I knew that I was meant to be an advocate.

The first meeting with a member of Congress was nerve-wracking, but after that, it just came natural to me. In all, I attended five different meetings.

That very October, I applied (and was the first one, by far) for the Advocacy Leadership Network’s second class. I was accepted, and the first big event was National Arts Advocacy Day – again, another first for me. I was very nervous at first attending by myself, but then I met Ann Marie Miller from ArtPride New Jersey and we formed an instant friendship.

Meeting Senator Booker and getting a selfie with him was an instant win. Those meetings at Arts Advocacy Day helped me decide to convince Carolyn Little from N.J. Thespians to create an Arts Advocacy Chairperson for New Jersey Thespians. It was the best decision we’ve made.

This was the first year I invited elected officials to the N.J. Thespian Festival, and it was an amazing experience. Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (District 3) and Assemblyman Joe Howarth (District 8) attended and saw the work students were doing throughout the day. We had confirmation from State Senator Troy Singleton (District 7), but due to the snow and the time changes of festival, he was unable to attend. However, he is still one of the biggest supporters we have had, and his assistant hand- delivered the proclamation the Senator had planned to present in person. The working relationship we have with Senator Singleton is a strong partnership going forward.

After the festival, I was off to my second National Arts Advocacy Day, this time with an additional 11 people from my school. Another chaperone and I brought 10 eager students to Washington, and that experience was both rewarding and challenging. I don’t know if you have ever attempted to navigate 10 students through the glorious Metro system in D.C., but its one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I was super thankful to have Ann Marie and Christine Petrini from ArtPride as my guides.

I am also working on getting New Jersey Thespians recognized as an official Career and Technical Student Organization through the State of New Jersey. I am thankful to have ArtPride behind me and helping out along the way.

I am thankful and honored to be recognized at the N.J. Governor’s Awards in Arts Education. Yesterday’s ceremony was very special, and I am happy to have made so many friends along the way. This award isn’t about the accolades, though. It’s about helping the students and making their lives just a little bit better. I think it’s safe to say, I am now an Arts Advocate.


Zach Bates a 2013 graduate of GCIT from the Academy of Performing Arts and serves on the New Jersey Thespian State Board, as the Advocacy & Fundraising Chairperson and the Co-Chair for Outreach and Security. Zach is also involved with the Educational Theatre Association at the National Level, serving on the Advocacy Leadership Network as the co-chair of the CTE Committee. You can reach him on Twitter @zbates.

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