What happens when four accomplished performing arts educators with a long history of working together collaborate to create a new company? The Crossover Project, the latest addition to Montclair’s innovative and active arts scene, is born.
What is the Crossover Project? The brainchild of Christian Ely, Sharon Stephens, Raegan Bliss Wood and Terrance Kennedy, the Crossover Project is a company of 21 student actors, singers and dancers who are challenged to “cross-over” or utilize all three core disciplines of acting, singing and dancing, no matter what each individual’s original strength is. Students audition or join by invitation, and there is a tuition fee.
Sharon Stephens, Managing Director of the Crossover Project, teaches at the Rosa Parks Arts High School in Paterson. Says Stephens, “We named this project the Crossover Project very intentionally. Our belief is that the artist will have a core discipline of modern dance, voice or acting. And the artist will be pushed to explore the elements of the other discipline.”
Acting teacher Christian Ely is the composer of the script for An Odyssey, interweaving the ancient epic of Homer’s Odyssey with a modern day story of a teenage girl who has moved multiple times and has had to read The Odyssey in school each time. One of the hallmarks of this company is that the performance piece is written as rehearsals progress, so that exercises and ideas done during rehearsal might eventually find their way into the script that Ely goes home and writes that night. “It’s a really organic process,” says student actor Ariana Taveras.
Taveras will be entering eleventh grade at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth. She has been acting with Summer Youth Performance Workshop at NJPAC since she was eleven. She comments on what makes her experience with this summer’s Crossover Project new and exciting. “As an actress I’m also being encouraged to sing and dance, developing the talents I’ve had somewhere but haven’t worked on.”
Halim McCartha of Paterson attends Passaic County Technical Institute where he will be a senior. The best part of being a part of the company, for him, is “the material. We are using ancient Greek theater; that’s where it all started.”
Ely cites one of the ongoing conversations the teachers at the Crossover Project are constantly engaged in: “How do we move a student really gently and meaningfully forward? How are we going to get that kid to a new place?” The wide range of ages and experience–the youngest member of the company is 12 and the oldest is 20–means that students are acting as both learners and mentors to each other. It is clear that rehearsal time is a wonderfully cyclical and reciprocal process where students become teachers and teachers learn from the students too.
Says modern dance teacher Raegan Bliss Wood, on the faculty of the Dance Department at Rutgers, “There will be some students who come out as artists and others who don’t go into the performing arts at all. But, if they walk out of here having had new experiences that are uncomfortable and that help them develop more confidence, then we’ve done our job.”
Check out the Crossover Project’s two performances this Friday August 13 at 4 pm and 7:30 pm. Reservations are required as space is limited! Email to make your reservation. See more information at The Crossover Project. Performance takes place in Fletcher Hall of the Montclair Unitarian Universalist Church at 67 Church Street.
Cynthia Darling is a freelance writer whose work appears in “Teaching Music” magazine. She is also a frequent contributor at Barista Kids