Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

A Life In The Theatre
Director of Education, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
Judy Gelman

Also see other installments:
Choreographer | Director of Marketing | Associate Producer & Company Manager
Scenic Designer | Sound Designer | Director of Volunteers | Director | Stage Manager | Performing Arts Fundraiser | Executive Artistic Director | Costume Designer

Judy Gelman
Those who stand in the spotlight on stage as the curtain is raised owe much to the talents and hard work of the many who make that moment possible. This interview continues a series of interviews with South Florida professionals in non-performing theatre careers. Hopefully, these interviews will serve not only to illuminate and entertain, but to inspire those with a love of theatre to explore the possibilities some of these careers might hold for them. Truly "a life in the theatre" need not be one that is lived only stage.

In September of 2007 the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, Florida opened their Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA). COPA was founded to bring quality education in the performing arts to children, teens and adults of all abilities. Classes are currently offered to children, teens and adults in Acting, Musical Theatre, Introduction to the Performing Arts, Ballet, Jazz, Voice and Dance Technique for the acting student. The classes are held at the theatre after school and on Saturdays. COPA employs five instructors teaching over 100 students. The 100 students are enrolled in some 225 private and small group classes each week. Gelman has also arranged for students to take master classes with guest artists visiting the Maltz, such as choreographer Ron DeJesus, assistant to Twyla Tharp.

COPA is funded through tuition, private donations, grants and monies raised by the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Guild. Scholarships are offered to students who are financially needy. "The Theatre is firmly committed to supporting the schools and the community by providing outreach programming - if the students cannot come to us to further their artistic aspirations, then we will come to them," said Andrew Kato, Artistic Director.

COPA Class
COPA recently received its first programming grant for the theatre's youth outreach program "Page to Stage" in the form of $20,000 from the Citigroup Foundation. "Page to Stage" is a workshop offered to title one schools, libraries and community organizations. Geared to the K - 4th graders, the workshop explains in a creative, dramatic presentation on how a book becomes a play. Students participate in theatre activities and act out a familiar story.

Where would we be without our arts educators? With humor and force they prod, nurture and shape the artist that is within their students. Their gift is the talented end product they help to create. This interview is with Judy Gelman, the Director of Education for the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

John Lariviere: What education, experience and training do you have that best prepared you for this job?
Judy Gelman: I studied classical ballet and jazz, four hours a day, five days a week for many years. I also 'hung out' backstage at local playhouses. There were no acting classes for kids when I was growing up. I read voraciously, imagining myself to be all of the characters in books. I left ballet after performing for several years while a teenager, and went to Carnegie Mellon to pursue acting.

I then started teaching as a VISTA volunteer (Volunteers in Service to America). The local YWCA asked me to put together any kind of dance program I wanted for underprivileged children and teens. I added acting classes to that. I also volunteered to pioneer an integrated arts program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. They had no arts programming at that time. One thing led to another and I was invited to start a school of the arts by some very influential corporate executives in the city.

I hired the top professionals in Pittsburgh at that time and we created a conservatory school for students interested in seriously studying the arts. I left that position after twenty years to take a marketing job with a large, for-profit corporation. This was a great learning tool for me. I came back to the arts, renewed and with a different approach to the business of the arts.

JL: What are the greatest challenges and greatest rewards of your position?
JG: The greatest challenges are maintaining the level of energy needed for this position, and constantly knowing students' needs and interests. The greatest rewards are seeing the students delight in the wonder of the discovery of themselves and their talents and in seeing them progress in the study of the arts. Also seeing my former students perform on Broadway and in national Equity tours is a great feeling.

JL: In what way, if any, does this job differ from a similar position outside of the arts?
JG: 'There's no people like show people.' Working with a group of people who share the passion for the work they do is a great thing. People in the corporate environment tend to work for more advancement and more financial gain. People in the arts work for the moment, for this play, for this ballet, for this musical. There is a bond amongst the artists that does not exist in other professions. I also think that people in the arts are more open to new things, to trying something to see if it works. I also spend a lot of my day in jeans and t-shirts and leotards and tights instead of suits! The pay, however, is lower than similar positions at this level of responsibility in the for profit world.

JL: What would you look for if you were hiring someone for this position?
JG: Someone who has knowledge of the educational process in vocal study, dance and acting would be needed for this position. In addition, the person needs to know how to project a budget and monitor it, how to schedule many different persons, how to negotiate contracts with instructors, and how to relate to children, teens and adults. A knowledge of the grant process is also beneficial. One also needs an extraordinary amount of energy.

JL: What are your plans and goals for the future?
JG: To continue to develop an intense curriculum in the performing arts. To create an adjunct high school for the performing arts for students in their junior and senior years of school. To develop an outreach program involving acting students who create a mini-musical to take out to schools based on something that is being studied in the curriculum. To create new works by students and perform them at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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