MONTREAL – Liana Wiener is in her happy place when she’s at work, heading the Segal Centre Academy as its director.
Before joining the academy’s staff a year ago, she was a teacher for 14 years with both the public and private sectors and for three years was director of the popular Sunny Acres Day Camp. Wiener knows what will grab and hold the imaginations of young people.
“If a child loves drama and dressing up, this is the place for them,” she says. “Also, many things are happening here. Like last year, our advanced Broadway Stars class did Aladdin Jr. and Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, who happened to be at the Segal, dropped in to watch these kids sing the songs he wrote.”
After-school programs are taught both at the Segal and by Segal instructors in the schools. After a wildly successful Segal-based session on a recent pedagogical day for the Jewish schools, Wiener came up with the idea of Act One Passover Camp for the four days of chol hamoed, April 25 to 28.
“Many parents told me they don’t go out of town like they do for spring break, so for those four days, parents are seriously looking for something for their kids to do,” says Wiener.
The Passover day camp offers acting, singing and dance training in Broadway and hip hop, leading to a short group presentation at its conclusion. Children also have the opportunity to make their own sets and props.
Adding further sparkle are two periods of circus arts that include learning how to ride a unicycle.
“They’ll be switching from instructor to instructor, activity to activity between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., if working parents need the extended hours. Children from grades 2 to 6 are eligible to enrol,” says Wiener.
The calibre of instructors is what gives the academy its high standards. Musical director David Terriault, for example, teaches Broadway Stars with triple-threat singer-director-choreographer Jonathan Patterson. Both have been involved in many main-stage productions, as has Michelle Heisler, who heads the YAYA (Young Actors for Young Audiences) Kids and Teens.
“YAYA is the springboard into the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre,” Wiener says. “They receive training like the others, but also learn their songs and some dialogue in Yiddish.
“The majority of them come to the program each year not speaking Yiddish, but they teach them phonetically and Michelle explains what they’re singing about.”
In the past, some members of the YAYA casts have not been Jewish, but adapted admirably. “We wanted to expose non-Jewish kids to YAYA so we’re touring secular as well as Jewish schools, serving the Segal’s mandate of promoting intercultural dialogue,” she explains. Bagels from Benny, set on Fairmount Street, is this year’s offering.
In June, the younger Broadway Stars tour a musical version of Hansel and Gretel, while the teens take Seussical the Musical on the road to Royal Vale and Merton Schools, for example, and perform weekday matinees in-house for visiting schools.
Both Akiva and St. Paul Schools are doing units on Seuss to tie in with their theatre outing.
There will also be performances at the Segal Centre for parents and the public, who can count on seeing a polished product, thanks to the involvement of the Segal’s professional theatre staff.
Wiener just instituted a new Glee program to fit the needs of those “who don’t necessarily want to be given a script.” Regular courses start in October, and Wiener sees the Passover camp as a taste of what young thespians may anticipate should they enrol full time.
“My goal is to develop kids’ interest in the performing arts,” she says. “They’re going to grow up and become our audience for the Segal shows.”
Contact Liana Wiener at 514-739-2301, ext. 8331, or at [email protected].