It’s not just about the performance,” Eliana Rantz said about theatre. “You develop lifelong skills like public speaking and overall confidence.”
The J will be launching a new theatre program, something it hasn’t had for 35 years. Theatre at the J will provide an outlet for creative expression and create a safe space for participants to find their place in the arts community, all while forming lifelong friendships and strong connections within the community.
In the 1960s, the JCC’s Teen Department established a Teen Age Council (TAC) for many of the high school-aged kids who regularly used the center. The JCC TAC went on to create a theatrical program called the TACapades (named like ICEcapades) and opened with their own show Johnnie Started Weeping. The program’s last performance was in 1986, and theatre at the J has been dark ever since
“It was beloved by many,” Programming Director Holly Wolfson said. “We get asked often to bring it back, as people have fond memories of their time in the TACapades.”
So many teens participated in this theatre program that it was unusual for someone not to be involved. The goal now is to bring that connection and community feel back to the J with a new theatre program.
Rantz will develop the program and serve as the director. After growing up doing theatre at her hometown JCC, Rantz received her BA in Theater Arts from Rutgers University and her MA in Theater Education and English Education from New York University. She has directed notable productions with various companies throughout New York and New Jersey, including The Last Rites of Kyle Wardach at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Thirty Minutes or Less, which premiered in the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival to rave reviews, Turbulent Tibet at The Province Town Playhouse, and The Laramie Project at George Street Playhouse.
Rantz taught theatre at several schools, including Shrewsbury Borough School and New Explorers High School. She has written, directed, and choreographed shows for children with special needs.
A unique feature of Theatre at the J is its accessibility for all members of the Jewish community. Neither performances nor classes will be on Friday nights or Saturdays to accommodate those observing Shabbat. This was something Rantz benefited from when she participated at Metrowest in New Jersey when she was growing up.
“No one should have to compromise what they are passionate about for religious observance,” Rantz said.
She wants to be part of building that same legacy with Theatre at the J, starting with kids in their younger years and watching them develop through the program.
For now, the classes that will be offered for Theatre at the J are Everyone’s a Star (ages 8-13) and Everyone’s a Star Mini (ages 5-7). In these collaborative drama classes, children will learn a variety of acting skills and exercises, as well as the basics of theatre, performance, character development, ensemble building, and storytelling. Culmination of the program will be presented in performance for family and friends to enjoy.
Both Wolfson and Rantz see this as a multigenerational program. Everyone at the J will be able to play a role in the theatre – whether as part of the performance, or as a spectator.
Performing onstage is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways to be part of Theatre at the J in the future. From building and painting sets to sound and lighting design, orchestration, costumes, everyone will be welcome to participate in a way that interests them.
“It’s another opportunity for children to connect and engage,” Wolfson said. “It really speaks to our mission, and it spans different generations and skill sets.”
“I want to create something special here at the J, and engage children in a new way,” Rantz said. “This is a place where people can collaborate and connect over a shared experience, in the meantime learning something about themselves, our community, and the broader world.”