CGN: What was it like to work on High School Musical?
NR: Shrill. A lot of fun. I was working as associate director for Jeff Calhoun and learned a lot about working with a script that needed help and helping the story find a grounded emotional arc. It was an amazing group of performers, many of which are good friends today. The frenetic screaming of preteens is something that I don’t need to sit amidst for very long periods of time, but the enjoyment of watching thousands of children get inspired by singing and dancing on stage was worth it.
CGN: How do you think musical theater is important in
NR: The world is waking up to the fact that every thing we see these days in entertainment and media, across the board, is pro-duced with a musical theatre sensibility. Music, acting, choreography, it is all done in a way that we in Musical Theatre recognize as good timing. And even outside the arts, Musical Theatre – and the instruction of it – sets the foundation for so many different developing skills.
There is no better way to expose kids to working collaboratively. So much of academia is spent immersed in your own studies, the mind gets trained into isolation with only left brain stimulation happening, i.e., logic, critical thinking, numbers and reason-ing. Students who don’t get exposure to the arts are not encouraging the development of the right brain faculties like expressing and reading emotions, color, imagery, intuition and creativity.
The reason we are seeing our country trailing in areas right now is due to a lack in support for the development of the imagina-tion alongside all other studies, we used to be on the forefront of all arts and sciences because imagination and its appreciation and cultivation was an integral part of our schooling. Musical Theatre has a bad rap of being cheesy and hokey, but that is simp-ly because it is so very difficult to teach and create. It is an art form that tells it’s stories using three different mediums, singing, acting and dance.
For millennia, cultures have used all three to pass on their own spiritual and social histories, in ceremonies and performances. Musical theatre is the strongest thread we have to unite our many cultures in America, and in the world. Try to explain your religious affiliation to another religion’s devotee and you will undoubtedly get some head nods and sidelong glances, but sing the first line of “New York, New York, a hell of a town…” and they will sing the rest of the line with you. It sounds trite, but some of our strongest theatrical moments in recent history, ones that galvanized a nation, have all come from musical theatre. Commercial designers know that; that is why they have the most important information sung.
CGN: How has this program helped your career?
NR: Ruben Van Kempen and the RHS drama program opened the door that led to me finding my calling. I was a D or C student my whole life, but when I found theatre and in particular found a theatre department that had someone as inspired as Ruben leading it, I earned my first 3.0 grade point average. It galvanized me with a sense of belonging, a sense that I had something I could do and be good at. Even if I hadn’t gone on to be a professional artist, I would have taken that strength and confidence into what ever field I would have ultimately chosen.
CGN: What was your favorite production during your time at RHS?
NR: Very few things have come close to touching the thrill of doing the opening of 42nd Street, tap dancing with 60 other stu-dents as the curtain rose to a thunderous applause. I remember struggling to hear the orchestra the reaction was so loud. It was electrifying. There was also a production of School For Scandal that we did my Junior Year that was such fun and so exacting and really got me excited about the different worlds you could construct on stage.
CGN: Has Roosevelt helped you get your start in your career? How?
NR: Ruben runs his program as close to a professional theatre as he can while still maintaining a healthy learning environment for the students. His expectations for respectful collaborations set a bar that you can’t help but try to reach. I felt like I had been prepared to enter a work place that is threaded with illusions of grandeur and “competition” with my head and heart in the right place.
CGN: With RHS Drama under threat due to the recession, do you think people should donate?
NR: WITHOUT QUESTION. It is not by mistake that when I went to the TONY awards with Thoroughly Modern Millie, there were three of us from Ruben’s program in TONY nominated shows that year. We are evidence of what great inspiration can do if it is sufficiently supported.