Read on for several parents’ perspectives on the creative process at PGT — and on how the magic of PGT has touched their whole family.
A note from the Gonzalez family
To the Faculty and Staff of PGT,
My wife and I want to take a moment to thank the entire staff at Play Group Theatre for everything they did for our son, Jaden Gonzalez, this summer. Jaden was part of the PGT Kids summer program and loved every minute. He woke up every morning with a smile on his face, eager to get back to camp. During the six weeks Jaden spent at PGT, we saw tremendous growth in him. Our once shy and timid son has become a confident and outgoing performer who loves being on stage. He is also more comfortable and confident overall, having been surrounded by kids with similar interests and teachers who encouraged them every step of the way.
The program itself was great, but it was the commitment and energy of the faculty and staff that made it a truly remarkable experience for our son. My wife and I witnessed first-hand the genuine passion and enthusiasm of every single member of the PGT staff. PGT has succeeded in creating a nurturing and positive environment where children can feel safe and are free to express themselves creatively.
We are amazed at how much Jaden has grown and we are thankful that a place like PGT exists.
Daniel & Sonia Gonzalez
Meet Laura Chamberlain
It was during the middle of a very packed school week, at about 9:30pm, and my husband and I were sitting in the kitchen waiting for our 5th grade daughter Sarah to come home from a late rehearsal for her first PGT play. Mark turned to me and asked, “Is this really worth it?” (She was, after all, playing a tin soldier!) Then Sarah walked through the door — all jazzed up, glowing, happy, filled with an energy that was palpable and infectious. And that answered Mark’s question. Since that first play, the PGT productions that Sarah has been in have truly been the highlight of each academic year for her. It is not just about learning to become a better actress or to develop her voice — which of course is a big part of PGT — but it is about becoming part of a safe, nurturing community outside your insular school community, where you can learn, grow, laugh, lend an ear, and take risks as an actor, person and friend. Now, five years later, as Sarah enters 10th grade, we look forward to ALL the shows, not just the ones Sarah is in, because we love watching the magic that PGT creates on stage, and we appreciate the magic PGT creates within each of its kids.
During the Spring of 8th grade, my daughter Sarah asked if she could participate in Play Group Theatre. I was completely shocked and sure it would be a passing phase — she was shy, quiet and had never expressed any interest in acting. Little did I know that it would become a life-transforming experience for her… and for our entire family. From painting furniture to sewing costumes to finding old clothes in our attic to scouring our house for props (what an experience to see your long-forgotten telescope or red wagon on stage!), we have all “gotten into the act.” And now my other daughter, Emily, has started PGT. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive, creative and nurturing environment.
When my daughter, Jackie was cast in her first show, I did what I do for most of her activities -- I drove her there and back. But as opening night approached, the director asked for volunteers to help with simple sewing. Although I hadn't done much more than hemming in recent years, I offered my services and that of my sewing machine (who somehow acquired the name Bernice). Soon the whole family was involved, with Jackie acting, Bernice and me sewing, and my husband and older daughter, Becky helping with sets and props. Becky continues to tech shows when she is available and my husband and I help out whenever we can. Sharing in something that our children are involved with has been great for the whole family -- we talk about the shows on a level that we can't discuss activities for which I am only the chauffer. While it doesn't take a lot of my time, my daughters and I definitely enjoy my being involved. - Susan Baron
So the truth must be known. It is true that I am a PGT parent and Volunteer. But most of all, I am a frustrated actor. When I look back upon my life’s journey, the most joyous moments I remember were on stage in junior high school and high school. So now that I am a health care executive, I get to perform at meetings, trying to engage my staff and colleagues with theatrical fervor, or during public speaking events, where I try to command the stage. But my “talent” pales in comparison to that of my son Jake, and the incredible community of young adults who make up the PGT family.
The closest I get to my first love of the theatre is supporting our PGT community and being the volunteer leader of our organization. When Jake was in third grade, 5 years ago, we heard about PGT from my friend Steve Madris, whose daughter Rachel was at that time already a young veteran (she graduates high school this year with close to 20 PGT credits under he belt). Steve told me that Jake, who had shown a love of performance since he could barely walk, would find something special in PGT. I can vividly remember picking Jake up for one of the first times at some parochial school off 287, which I always got lost going to. Standing there with Steve, I could peek in and see Jake quickly “in his element” and I said to Steve “this is so special.” Steve smiled back and said, “You are going to be ‘sucked in’ by this community.”
And sure enough, 5 years, and 10 plus shows later, I am as “sucked in” as you could be. But on a serious note, there is nothing that I could possibly do as a volunteer more gratifying than watching my son and his friends grow up in the nurturing, supportive environment that Jill and Steve Abusch have created in PGT. I always say that PGT is magical… and that is in fact the right word… where else do children of different ages and sexes treat each other as “colleagues” with respect, love, and support? My son is a better person because of PGT.
One of the most important things I have learned from the beginning about PGT is that it is not about your child, it is about all the kids. Nothing has given me greater pleasure than seeing shows that my son was not in and cheering for his friends.
I would welcome more parents into our volunteer fold. PGT is unique… and it is so because we are a community. Whether you are looking at our spring brochure for the first time or if you are PGT veterans, welcome to a new season of community and magic.
It was nearing the end of Tech Week for my daughter and my son. I was making yet another trip from my home in White Plains to Irvington Town Hall (or was it SUNY Purchase or Woodlands High School or…?). The hour was late; I was tired; I knew they would be tired; homework undoubtedly awaited them. Yes, I confess, I asked myself: Why do I let them do this?!!
And then it struck me: Where would I rather have them spend their free time?! PGT is not just a wonderful theatre program for children and teens where each season a range of acting, movement, and stage craft classes are taught by caring, nurturing, talented and creative people and where each participant experiences the joy of performing in one of several productions. It also is an incredibly supportive community where, together, student actors and teaching artists work hard for a common goal, encourage each other to take risks in developing a character, and support one another when the dance step is tricky or the song’s notes go just a little too high. PGT is a place where my children get to experience first-hand that each part, whether large or small, is essential to the whole and that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Naomi started participating in PGT in second grade at age 7. She’s now going into 9th grade at age 14, and she’s already concerned that she only has 4 years left with PGT. Nathan caught the theatre bug more recently and has gravitated more to the tech side of the stage. And, for me, in addition to lots of driving and attending many, many performances, I’ve been able to sew costumes, put together playbills, sell concessions, and help out in the PGT office. The opportunities at PGT for you and your children are endless!
When my daughter Madeline, age 11, expressed interest in taking acting lessons and performing in shows, I began my search for the right place to get her started. Having worked professionally in the theatre for 13 years, I had very specific standards I was looking for. I wanted a place where process was as highly valued as product, someplace where they would get to know themselves and others a little bit better. It had to be an environment that was nurturing, where they felt they could explore creatively without being judged, and, in so doing, gain confidence. It was a tall order, to be sure, but I looked around at what was available and was delighted when I found PGTheatre. If I could have designed a children’s theatre experience myself — this would be it! I now have two daughters involved at PGTheatre, Madeline and Susannah, and they both feel they have a very special home away from home there. And, if I tried to sum up how my daughters’ lives have been enriched by PGTheatre… well, I would have to say that it has been the single greatest life learning experience we have been able to give them.
“Speak the truth in love.” That’s exactly what I did, although I postponed speaking the truth as long as possible.
I was driving to White Plains one afternoon with my 12 year old son who was sitting in a rigid uncomfortable pose with his legs stretched out stiffly and his shoulders hunched and his head sulking almost below the window, in absolute agony.
We were on our way to our first PGT encounter. I had registered Evan over the phone after the season had begun. Steven Abush said, yes they had one opening for a 12 year old boy. Hurrah for us. We were elated. We’d heard such accolades about this couple Steven and Jill and their fabulous Play Group Theatre.
“Evan you’re taking a dance class.” I waited for the car ride there. Yes, this is a teaching company. You come to learn, to be trained, shaped and explore. Why the agony? Our 12 year old boy who only a few years ago took every opportunity to be on stage at church or school was now an adolescent. Who would rather lie low out of sight, out of mind and observe life around him. Dance, it was unthinkable!
I anxiously lingered around the doorways and hallways of that gymnasium in White Plains where his first dance class took place. Reflecting upon the enthusiastic dance instructor and the relaxed friendly atmosphere and the ease at which Evan disappeared from my sight, I could only deduce Evan would not only survive but enjoy his first day.
Five years have passed our son is 17; he’s danced up a storm as Kenickie in Grease, was a loving and stern father and romantic lead in Sound of Music. What happened? The wonderful unforgettable years at PGT happened to Evan. He is writing his own scripts, singing solos, taking risks. Has made wonderful strong friendships, wore a shoulder length wig as a hippie in Hair, ran off stage as Thisby in Midsummer Nights Dream, revealing his boxers, to an audience. He’s learned to work backstage as a tech person, built sets with Steven, learned to speak up and help raise money, entertained family and friends, has a vision for himself and what he wants to do in college — and did I mention how he’s learned to work, memorize, be prepared and on time. Our little boy is practically a man and we are so proud of him. Thank you PGT, so many of you have done so much.