When Angela Sbano and her family moved to New Fairfield from Brooklyn last year, she realized quickly that there was a need for more theatrical opportunities, especially at the middle school level. Enter: the New Fairfield Parks & Rec Middle School Drama Club. On the cusp of hosting their second musical revue—the first had rave reviews—the group will take to the stage to perform favorite hits from modern Broadway musicals.
Bits from Matilda? Rent? Beetlejuice? Shrek? Les Misérables? Hamilton? They are all on the list to be performed. Not to mention an acting sketch that Angela is “particularly proud of” and “that will likely bring a few tears. Parenting is hard. Being a kid is hard. It ends with the kids imploring, ‘If Only You Would Listen’ from School of Rock.” Inspired by her three children’s love of theater, Sbano says, “While we’ve only just begun, I hope to have had a positive impact on the kids of New Fairfield, and to have expanded the opportunities for participation in the performing arts. It’s nice to have a balance of arts opportunities with sports. For middle schoolers especially, theater is a great creative outlet for expression and a wonderful way to boost self-esteem.”
Given the traction after the first show and the hunger for opportunities, Sbano’s happily surprised by the club’s growth from its first eight members in the fall to what is currently a twenty-two strong group, with a large waiting list to boot. “I joke that the program is ‘The Little Drama Club That Could’ because trying to determine the best path forward in a very short period of time, coupled with all the set-up work, was a steep uphill climb.” One thing that wasn’t difficult to find…talent. “This town is a gold mine of young talent!” Sbano effused. “They are a hard-working bunch and eager to accept the challenge and responsibility of playing leading roles.”
Sbano set out to help these adolescents create great performances, but also have oodles of fun. Leaning on her former skills as a Girl Scout Leader, Sbano helped the group to bond by creating a “Drama Club Promise” with them—the big take-away is “we are here to have fun, make lots of mistakes, and encourage each other.” To keep rehearsals lively and help get students comfortable with the stage, the group did improv, laugh challenges, memory games, and more. And in both sessions, Sbano has encouraged the students to take a deep dive into each role, saying, “we have taken the time to get to know the characters we are portraying and their stories, connecting with the history behind each.”
Angela’s background in the performing arts is extensive, with over twenty years of experience performing across the northeast in concerts, operas, and theatrical productions, many of which she produced with her classical crossover band, Elixer Opera. She wrote and directed Sparkle the Fairy Princess, an educational musical which toured public and private schools across NYC. Angela also served for a dozen years as music leader at St. Thomas Aquinas in Park Slope, Brooklyn; led children’s choirs; and coached private voice, acting, and audition prep lessons. She is currently the producer of this spring’s NFHS musical, Urinetown.
New Fairfield High School Choral Director Andrew Gadwah connected Sbano with teens who, in exchange for the experience and community service hours, became a great help with rehearsals, tech, and more. “I also relied heavily on my incredibly resourceful club mamas, who did everything from help mend costumes, to creating and printing tickets, to designing a logo and ordering sweatshirts, to helping with backstage quick-change, and running the ticket booth and concession stands!,” Sbano said. She also thanks NFMS Principal Karen Gruetzner for her encouragement and support and the Town of New Fairfield’s Parks and Recreation Department, all of whom have been incredibly supportive and helpful, especially Jane Stagno who invested a great deal of effort into helping make this new offering a smash hit for the kids.
For this show, and going forward, Sbano hopes that club members “learn their voice is unique and beautiful and worthy of sharing with the world. I hope they learn that they are brave.”
Let’s give these brave and talented kids a big audience by coming to the NFHS Auditorium to enjoy some of the best of Broadway in our own backyard, Thursday, February 2 and Friday, February 3, 6:30 p.m. each night. Tickets by donation at the door with cash or Venmo. Proceeds go toward Broadway tickets for the whole group to enjoy in the spring. The Fine Arts Boosters of New Fairfield, Inc. will offer plenty of sweet and savory snacks, plus hot and cold drinks, in the lobby.
By Sarah Opdahl