PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: At This Spring Cabaret, Performers Ages 9 to 21 Become 'Family' | Playbill

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Special Features PLAYBILLDER Spotlight: At This Spring Cabaret, Performers Ages 9 to 21 Become 'Family'

Award-winning Aspire Performing Arts Company of New Jersey focuses on the transformative moments, on the stage and off.

Aspire Performing Arts Company's Spring Cabaret Tom Salus

Welcome to PLAYBILLDER Spotlight, where Playbill highlights shows and events from educational institutions around the country (who have used Playbill's program-building service). By welcoming these PLAYBILLDERs center stage, we hope to give our readers a more in-depth look at theatre programs that are fostering the love of the performing arts in the next generation.

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This week's spotlight is Aspire Performing Arts Company at the Fair Lawn Community Center of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Every year, they put together a Spring Cabaret. Featuring performers between the ages of 9 and 21, the revue featured songs from both contemporary and classic musical such as AnnieHamiltonLittle Shop of Horrors, and Waitress. This year also features an original song from an alum of the program.

Aspire Performing Arts Founder and Artistic Director Lisa Beth Vettoso shared with Playbill why her proudest moments as an educator hasn't been on the stage, it's been in how her students have grown from doing theatre.

Tell us a little about yourself. How many years have you been teaching?
Lisa Beth Vettoso: 
I am the artistic director of a community theatre program called Aspire Performing Arts Company. Our mission is to provide educational workshops and production opportunities for children, teens, and young adults, offering a professional arts experience in a friendly atmosphere.

I began working in youth theatre in 2001. I choreographed a production of Guys and Dolls, JR., and knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I found such joy in working with young performers, giving them the tools to explore the process of creating live theatre, and finding a greater sense of confidence in themselves.

Aspire Performing Arts Company's Spring Cabaret Tom Salus

Can you share a little bit about the value you see in having an educational performing arts program?
I believe that theatre allows students to unlock so many skills: creativity, teamwork, communication, problem solving, expression, understanding, empathy—the list goes on. 

I consistently witness the positive impact each production has on the cast. The bond they forge throughout the process is so strong, and the experience is always referred to as a "family." While I always want the end product to be of the highest quality, for me, it's the process that matters most. Giving students a chance to find themselves and to support each other, that is reflected back from the stage. Aspire has won a few National Youth Arts Awards, several for "Outstanding Ensemble." When I gave my first acceptance speech, I talked about what ensemble means: It's about how everyone works together as a team. That meant so much to me as a director and educator.

What is your proudest moment as an educator?
Along those same lines, when asked what my proudest moments are, my mind doesn't flash to the stage. I don't automatically think about that one show that that packed the house or the one where the set was especially impressive. I think about the transformative moments that I have witnessed over the years: the young performer who went from being reticent to even speak to doing a solo audition and getting cast as a narrator in Into the Woods, JR., the moment when an actor truly understood how a character was feeling, a group hug at the end of a show.

Aspire Performing Arts Company's Spring Cabaret Tom Salus

Tell us a little bit about the production. What made you pick the show?
Our Spring Cabaret came to be because I was looking for something to fit in between our Winter show, Into the Woods, that went up in January 2024 and our summer auditions scheduled for May. 

I spoke with my other director, Brooke, and we decided to expand on a previous cabaret concept and put together a program where students could focus on large group and small group numbers, as well as solos and duets. We split them into two age groups, 8-14 and 14-21, and they rehearsed over a very short period of time, only about six weeks, with only one to two rehearsals a week. Much of what they performed was suggested by the actors themselves, so there was a strong personal connection to the material. They also got to explore some new material as well, and they rose to the challenge.

Aspire Performing Arts Company's Spring Cabaret Tom Salus

How did you select the music included in Spring Cabaret?
One thing that was very special about this process was that we had the opportunity to premiere an original composition by a former performer of mine, Casey Gorab. This story really speaks to something I love about Aspire, when former students come back to us in new roles. From 2015 to 2018, Casey performed in 8-10 shows with Aspire. During that time, she also started doing work on the production side as Stage Manager, Assistant Choreographer, etc. She began studying musical theatre in college and is currently a graduate student at NYU studying film score composition. She has been the Music Director for three Aspire productions, including Spring Cabaret, and also taught songwriting classes for us in the past. 

In discussing the Spring Cabaret, Casey said she would like to write an original piece for it, and I told her I would love to have something dedicated to my parents, who both passed away within the last 3 years. Casey took that idea and created something absolutely beautiful, an original piece called "Beyond," which focuses on the impact that people make in our lives and the ripple effect of that impact. It's not only an incredible tribute to my amazing parents, but it also again reinforces what I hope all of my performers will come to understand in their lives: that all we do means something and matters to someone else. You never know what kind of an impact you are having or what kind of legacy you will leave behind.

What message do you have for your students as they take the stage?
Each time we do a show, we circle up and hold hands, and I talk to the cast about the experience and what to take out there with them. This time, my message was "make yourselves proud." And I believe that they did.

Aspire Performing Arts Company's Spring Cabaret Tom Salus

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