After years of working with students in Manhattan and P.S. 144 in Forest Hills, Leah Zepel and Rob Preuss have created three classes for local Queens students who have an interest in singing, acting, improv and Broadway in general.
“We will give lots of opportunities for kids to shine in whatever they do best,” Zepel said. "If kids don’t like to sing, they will have improv and acting to offset it. It’s all about having fun."
The hour-long classes are aimed for children from first to sixth grade. Each class will begin with an acting exercise and will feature some sort of light scene work and improv games.
For the younger children, Zepel will lead them through activities such as freeze dancing, which will teach them about using their ear as well as following instructions.
The older students will have more regimented acting classes and work on harmonies. Wide-ranging choreography will also be incorporated into classes with the older kids.
For instance, while younger kids will learn basic moves such as step and touch and working with rhythm, the older kids will use more pronounced dance movements and turns.
At the end of the classes, the three groups will present a showcase consisting of three to five Broadway songs each. Throughout the course, the kids will learn the history of the songs and the meaning behind them.
"As they are so young, it’s more of an introduction to sort of inspire them to see how fun it could be to make music and dance and do so with other people within a group,” Preuss said. “Yu can see it in their eyes that this is what they want to do, even if it means that they are just pursuing it as an after-school hobby."
Preuss, a Canada native, and Zepel, who hails from California, met in 2002 on the Broadway production of “Mamma Mia!” After working together for 14 years on the show, Preuss as the musical director and Zepel as a singer and dancer, they decided to create the classes based upon the successful model of a mini-Broadway program at their son’s school, P.S. 144.
Children who have signed up are mostly from Forest Hills, but there are also participants from Jamaica, Elmhurst and Rego Park.
"The kids do love the arts in this neighborhood, which is what makes me so proud to live here,” she said. “They’re so talented and might not realize it until they try it.”
Parents at P.S. 144 often approached the couple about classes after seeing their children's participation. Preuss added that their goal is also to show parents that there are creative and artistic ways that children can spend their time versus the traditional activities like soccer and other sports.
If there are students who are strongly interested in pursuing a career, Zepel suggests taking classes and especially private lessons to hone their auditioning and performing muscles. There are certainly a lot of roles for children in Broadway at the moment, with productions such as “Matilda" and "Finding Neverland."
“Everyone takes classes, whether it’s for dancing, voice lessons or workshops, because you have to say up on your game or you’ll lose it,” Zepel said.
Classes begin on January 26. To learn more, visit TheBroadwayClass.com.