After growing up in Union City, Lucio Fernandez wanted to find something for kids in the area to do after school.
"I kept complaining that there was nothing for kids to do in the area," said Fernandez about why he started the Grace Theater Workshop with Megan Smith.
Fernandez and Smith, both active in the theater community, formed the non-profit organization about one year ago. The Grace Theater Workshop provides area children ages 10 and up with free dance, singing and acting lessons.
"A lot of the kids have the energy, but did not have any place to go," said Smith.
The workshop began with two classes per week and has grown to two classes per night three nights a week.
"We started with seven kids, and in a month's time had 57 enrolled," said Fernandez.
After its first year, the Grace Theater Workshop is holding a benefit concert to help fund the workshop. The proceeds will go to paying the students' registration fees and purchasing costumes and other necessary equipment for the students. That way, the students don't have to pay a dime.
"It all adds up," said Fernandez, noting that this year the kids wore special T-shirts as costumes. "When you buy a T-shirt for $5 and you have 50 kids, it gets expensive."
The benefit concert will not feature the students, but will feature professional musical groups. It will take place on Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. and will feature local musical group Trio Pasional and the Venezuelan ensemble Café Con Pan.
The admission price to the concert is $20, which is a tax-deductible donation. The theater is located at 3901 Park Ave. in Union City.
While the students will not be performing in this year's benefit concert, they are kept busy with performances throughout the year.
The students perform in shows for the workshop as well as in local parades and they also took part in this year's Fourth of July Celebration. Fernandez said that other students have already been cast in radio commercials.
This year, Fernandez said that the workshop is planning three shows with the children.
"Most of the shows, we write," said Smith. "But a lot of it is through improvisation. It is what the kids put together themselves."
Each show has students acting, singing and dancing in their roles.
"For my first show, I was sweating. I couldn't do it," said Henry Castro, 13, of Union City. "Now I am used to it. I am like a professional."
"Some of these kids wouldn't talk at all when they first came here," said Fernandez. "Now they are doing monologues on stage."
While practicing for each performance is hard work, the students really enjoy the classes.
"We were going to have a short break during the summer, but the kids didn't want to," said Smith.
"We always have a good time," said Cesar Henriquez, 14, of Union City.
"It keeps me out of trouble," said Lauren Rodriguez, 13, of West New York, shyly after her class. "But it has been fun."
Trio Pasional includes Hoboken flutist Sharon Levin, the principal flutist for the New Jersey Pops Orchestra, and Spanish guitarists Luis Polanco and Luis Cardenas.
To reserve tickets for the concert call 864-7149.