Impassioned New York City Students Find Home Away From Home at Rosie's Theater Kids

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28 Jul 2014

Lori Klinger
Lori Klinger

Rosie O'Donnell received the 2014 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for her work with Rosie's Theater Kids, the Manhattan arts education organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children through the arts. Playbill.com stopped by the Maravel Arts Center, home to RTKids, to check out the children's work.

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With a couple of claps from artistic and executive director (and mentor) Lori Klinger, the Rosie's Theater Kids stop what they're doing, mirror her sound, quiet down and prepare to work. After all, they've come from all over New York City to focus their creative energies, explore through artistic expression and educate themselves through the arts.

Klinger explained, "I always say it was developed around her kitchen table, talking." She refers, of course, to Rosie O'Donnell, who was awarded the 2014 Tony Award for her work with the arts education program and co-founded RTKids alongside Klinger. The program began over a decade ago in 2003 and has grown from 40 to over 1,700 students.

The students call Maravel Arts Center their home — the residence of RTKids, located on 45th Street in Hell's Kitchen. The summer program went into full swing at the beginning of July, and students can be found in the dance studios, singing by a piano or in the RTKids study room, where performance takes a seat and education stands center stage.

"I really like that [Rosie's Theater Kids is] not only artistic, but it's also academic because I'm not really sure where I'd be right now if I didn't have the academic support," explained 14-year-old student and volunteer Noelya Richardson, who is going into her fifth year at RTKids. "They really stay on top of your grades — they're always checking in to see how your grades are doing. Lara [Paquette], our tutor, helps us with our homework or a test coming up. We have Regents [Examination] prep, and the juniors have SAT prep, so I really like that."

The school-aged children also prepare for auditions. On July 10, 13-year-old, middle-school students Noah Ford and Johnny Vega were practicing "I Can't Be Bothered Now" from Crazy for You, "Consider Yourself" from Oliver! and "Shine" from Billy Elliot: The Musical with director of vocal studies Lisa Danser.

"We were singing 'Shine,' and it's one of my favorite songs that we have in the entire packet," explained Vega, who was given artistic freedom by Danser to explore the song and feel safe in the room.

Ford added, "It's one of our audition songs that we could perform for Professional Performing Arts School or LaGuardia or Talent Unlimited [high schools]." At Rosie's the students are prepared with the proper tools for auditions, a life at theatre school or a career in the arts.

Richardson, who attends NYC's Talent Unlimited High School, said, "There's definitely lessons outside of just a drama class — professionalism — and, if you want to get a job, if you want to audition for something, [you're taught] the proper way to do it. It's not only a drama class or a dance class, but [a lesson in] proper etiquette."



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