SCHENECTADY — “When we built The School of The Performing Arts, part of our vision was to develop training programs that rivaled any of those in the largest markets in the country,” said Christine Sheehan, Director of Education at Proctors.
Proctors has had education programs for multiple decades. “But when our new CEO, Philip [Morris], came about 20 years ago, he wanted us to establish a more formal education program and asked me to build it,” said Sheehan. “A few years later, we decided to brand it as a school within a school.”
Recently rebranded as The Collaborative School of the Arts, Proctors’s education programming works as a part of a collaborative effort across the region.
“It’s for Proctors, Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany and Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga,” explained Sheehan. “It’s all our education programming wrapped up into a school.”
Freddy Ramirez is a performer, choreographer, and teacher. He teaches for Proctors and Capital Repertory, as well as his own classes. Currently, he is choreographing Capital Repetory’s upcoming performance of The Wizard of Oz. “I kind of piecemeal my work. That’s how I became a teacher.”
Originally from the Bronx, Ramirez was a Broadway performer. He toured the United States and Europe in productions of West Side Story, A Chorus Line, Grease, Cabaret, The King and I, Peter Pan, Oliver, Kiss Me Kate and more.
“The second chapter of my life is to be an instructor,” he explained. “Up here in Upstate New York, there’s not really a lot of opportunities for a Hispanic male dancer to be working in shows in the area.”
“A lot of what we talk about here at Proctors is the creative economy,” said Sheehan. “Many of our skilled students in the area, when they come to college here, then they leave the area. What we want to do is train and retain these innovative artists so that they can work in the area and find it a wonderful place to live.”
“The business of arts and performance up here is very tricky,” said Ramirez. “There are opportunities, but it’s not consistent throughout the entire year. You won’t be able to really support yourself, your family, or your lifestyle up here. That’s why I got into teaching.”
“There are a lot of passionate kids out there who may not have access to what they really want to do with their lives,” he added.
“There are over 30,000 jobs in the creative sector in this region,” said Sheehan, “but many students don’t have the understanding or training to access them. Part of our mission is so they understand that they understand there are these opportunities, and the other part is to train them in those opportunities.”
“Theatre is a passion-driven career,” said Ramierz. “Most people don’t realize that you can make a living out of the arts, even though it’s hard.”
Proctors has made it their mission to train students for careers both on and off the stage. “A lot of what we do is prepare students for off-stage careers,” said Sheehan.
“A lot of kids don’t understand the many administrative careers that are also available in the performing or creative arts arenas. We try to make sure that the students understand that there are a wide number of opportunities across the industry for them if they don’t want to be onstage.”
“We have classes going on all through the day, into the evening. We have after-school programs. Hundreds of kids come to school here throughout the day,” she described.
“We provide an exposure experience to the arts. We let them see performances,” said Sheehan. “The engagement part is where we start to cultivate smaller class sizes in career-based programming.”
Proctors provides a wide variety of classes. Broadway Tech assists students in networking with major companies, such as Disney Theatrical Productions.
“Students have the opportunity to come here and take sessions from those industry professionals and also learn from the designers and technical crew of a Broadway show,” said Sheehan. “They’ll also be able to observe backstage when that happens.”
Students are able to study every aspect of “costuming, wardrobe, lighting, and sound.” Sheehan added, “Sometimes even the producer will be able to come talk with them.”
Having established artists and companies, such as Disney Theatrical, become acquainted with the students and give workshops is one way Proctors helps students network for future careers.
“We will help students network to make sure they do what’s needed,” said Sheehan. “We continue to be a support and a mentor to them to help them understand about working in the industry.”
In Saratoga, Rock Camp is a summer training program appealing to aspiring young musicians. Broadway Camp is for students interested in pursuing theatre. Ramierz is a teacher at Broadway Camp.
“Broadway Camp is where we produce a full-scale musical on our main stage and offer free professional-level training for actors, musicians, and production students,” explained Sheehan.
“Come to see everything that’s presented, because from where we start to where we end up, it’s a magical journey,” encourages Ramierz. “We’re always very proud of the productions that we present. It’s always a magical experience when we get to the final product.”
“Proctors has so much that they offer for kids to learn and experience, from the tech aspect, the lighting, and costuming, to singing, dancing, and acting,” said Ramierz. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for people, however old they are, whether they are teenagers or adults.”
What Ramierz loves most is “the impact that it has on my students.” Some of his students have moved on to do theatre work. “It’s great to be a part of their progression into the world of theatre.”
“I’m very lucky to still be dancing and to pass the torch, as it were, to my wonderful students and still get that joy of performing, whether I’m teaching class, performing, or choreographing,” he said.
“Cultural organizations like Proctors and others across the region can offer a great deal to train and retain artists,” commented Sheehan. “We’re all collaborators in a higher mission to make sure that the entertainment industry stays vibrant.”