NewArts was founded by Michael Baroody, MD, a resident of Newtown, following the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. A ripple effect ensued that day which touched the lives of people throughout Newtown, the state, the country and the world. We were left with many questions, including about how best to move forward.
Oftentimes when tragedy strikes, we develop a sense of vulnerability in our relationship between ourselves and the world around us. If this personal assault is not addressed in a timely fashion we run the risk of uncertainty becoming firmly ingrained into how we think about ourselves and how we react to the world. We believe the performing arts, at their best, provide a powerful avenue for self-expression and personal growth that helps combat and harness negative emotions.
In the summer of 2013, an incredible team of theater professionals from New York City joined our foundation to produce our inaugural event, Seussical: The Musical,at Newtown High School. Michael Unger, the Foundation’s Producing Artistic Director, conceived the idea and led the production team. The process of challenging the 84 young participants from the Newtown community beyond their comfort level by expecting them to train and perform as professional actors ultimately empowered them. They were taught to express themselves through their characters which served as a powerful emotional release. Through their hard work and dedication, many accomplished unprecedented personal greatness, with friends who understand their struggles, in front of a loving and supportive community.
There is a great deal of potential in the Arts to encourage and enhance values and life skills such as confidence, inner strength and the ability to inspire others. To help guide the children, we have sought out world-class experts in personal development. This team of volunteers, led by the Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale University School of Management, has constructed a unique character development strategy that synergistically meshes with our Arts initiatives. During the summer of 2014, the “ARC Players Program” was initiated. The acronym ARC describes three modules: Aspire, Reach/Expand and Create/Sustain. Our goal is for the children to fully understand their experiences in the Arts and make their experiential learning part of their overall understanding of themselves and how they interact with the world around them.
Our 2014 summer theatrical programs include two musicals: one, an original world-premiere Rock and Roll adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The other, The 101 Dalmatians Musical, adapted specially for Newtown by Michael Unger and Dennis DeYoung of the rock group Styx who wrote the original score. Four professional Broadway actors worked alongside over 200 Newtown student actors aged 5-19, and a few students from neighboring towns. Students and parents were represented in the orchestra and there were empowered 13-year-old girls wielding power tools (boys too) helping the professionals build the sets! There are young apprentices working with lighting and sound designers, choreographers, and music directors. A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream performs at Newtown High School August 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. The 101 Dalmatians Musical performs August 6, 7, 8 and 10.
Additionally, we are in the planning stages and working toward building a world-class, state-of-the-art performing arts and education center in Newtown to house our programs. We sought out Richard Pilbrow, founder of Theatre Project Consultants, the premiere designer of performance spaces with more than 1,200 projects in 70 countries around the world. Mr. Pilbrow has joined the Foundation’s Board and has been working with a feasibility study firm to outline what type of structure would be best for our community not only for today but for generations to come.
Also on the Foundation’s Board is Jay Winuk, a national-award-winning public relations professional but also the co-founder of MyGoodDeed, the nonprofit that successfully advocated for and which is the caretaker of the “9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance” – now the largest annual day of charitable engagement in U.S. history. Jay, a 9/11 family member, brings a vital and very meaningful sensibility to the Foundation as a leader of an organization that is doing good works in the world coming out of personal and publicly-experienced tragedy.
Ultimately, the influence of our efforts will not be contained to Newtown. These are universal concepts that may be implemented in other communities around the country and possibly even the world. Implementing the character development strategy in other communities and the potential outreach of the performing arts center via advanced video and streaming capabilities will inspire many beyond the borders of Newtown for years to come.
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