Getting ‘adopted’
High Tech Musical Theater Dept. students honored by Paper Mill Playhouse
by Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Nov 03, 2013 | 5889 views | 0 0 comments | 99 99 recommendations | email to a friend | print
High Tech
FAMOUS STREET – High Tech High School students  perform in their last production, “Avenue Q,” in the spring of this year.
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High Tech High School’s Musical Theater Department has graduated to a new plateau with its selection by the Paper Mill Playhouse’s “Adopt-a School Project” for the next four years.

Part of its association with the Millburn-based professional theater means that High Tech will be “adopting” students, seeking out Hudson County eighth graders to attend classes there and participate in its productions.

The Paper Mill program is a four-phase arts-in-education initiative aimed at bringing the arts directly into High Tech’s Musical Theater classroom.

“It employs observation and participation in the performing arts as a means of intensifying academic studies, teaching cultural and functional literacy skills, developing an informed arts audience for tomorrow, and enhancing the educational experience of today,” said Alex Perez, High Tech Musical Theater director.

Like their instructor, the high school students themselves are excited about the opportunities the designation will bring.

“It inspires me to work very hard so our shows can reach a high level of success,” said Isabella Rodriguez, 16, a junior from North Bergen.

“I’m so excited about Paper Mill because it provides a first-hand education like no other in the theater world,” said Jarod Bracero, 15, a sophomore from Hoboken.

“I love that we are learning about the process and applying it to our shows, which excites me for the year ahead,” said Sarah Battaglia, 16, a junior and also from Hoboken.
“It inspires me to work very hard so our shows can reach a high level of success.”– Isabella Rodriguez of North Bergen
“It helps give me an inside look at the production process of professional theater, and all the careers I can be a part of,” said Abigail Loughlin, 16, a junior from Jersey City.

“It’s a great chance to learn on a Broadway-caliber stage and get introduced to the theatrical profession,” said Matthew Dynes, 17, a junior from Bayonne.

Since its inception in 1999, the Musical Theater Department at High Tech has earned wide acclaim for its commitment to the arts and its extensive training curriculum.

Prestigious program

Under the direction of Perez, and with support from musical director Rod Shepard, the program has been widely recognized in New Jersey, and even nationally.

“Over the last 13 years, the program has received an impressive 40 nominations and 11 wins at the New Jersey State Paper Mill Playhouse Awards,” Perez said, “including honors for best overall production, best director, best costumes, best makeup, educational impact, lighting, best actor, actress, and featured performers.”

Other accomplishments include a successful, six-week Off-Off-Broadway run of the department’s 2003 production “Oz, A Twisted Musical,” and representing the United States at the Oberhavel Germany Arts and Edinburgh Fringe festivals in 2001 and 2007, respectively.

The department’s work has also been celebrated at the Metro-North Cappies Awards, with more than 15 nominations and six wins in a span of only two years.

The school’s curriculum features acting technique, movement, voice and theater production, and includes a series of master classes instructed by notable industry professionals, including Broadway and Tony-nominated stars Kerry Butler (“Xanadu”), Kenita Miller (“Rocky”), James Rado (“Hair”), Colin Hanlon (“Rent”), and Rob McClure (“Chaplin”).

According to Perez, many graduates of HTHS continue on to higher education in acting and attend such prestigious academic institutions as the Tisch School of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon, Stella Adler, Yale Drama, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, The Atlantic Theatre Company, and the Rutgers Mason Gross School. Alumni have appeared on Broadway, in national tours and regional productions, in films, and on television.

Rounded education

“High Tech’s solid reputation in the community has been driven by its high-caliber production season,” Perez said. “Students involved in the school’s shows take on a range of responsibilities and tasks, from fundraising – all production costs are covered solely by students’ fundraising efforts – to learning the basics of budgeting, producing, and the marketing aspects of a production.”

In 1992, Paper Mill’s Adopt-A-School Project was selected by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a model arts-in-education program and was cited in the publication, “Community Arts: Partnerships for Education.” In 1998, Paper Mill was cited by Stage Directions Magazine as “One of Ten Theaters Making a Difference,” based on the success of the theater’s educational outreach initiatives, specifically the Adopt-A-School Project.

High Tech’s Musical Theater Department will showcase its students in January productions of “Into the Woods” and “Guys and Dolls.”

“This is to build support for our March musical, ‘Spring Awakening,’ a coming-of-age rock musical where teens find themselves,” Perez said.

Tickets for these events are available at or by calling (866) 967-8167.

‘Adopting eighth graders’

An opportunity for Hudson County eighth graders to participate in theater will take place on Jan. 11, as High Tech’s Performing Arts Department is recruiting students for high school.

“To be a part of this program, students must register for High Tech,” Perez said. All the information is posted on the school website

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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