The Hoboken Children’s Theater company is up for an award for Best Children’s Theater/Family Theater Production in New Jersey from BroadwayWorld.com for their musical “The Ballad Of Janis Matthews and the Dodo Scouts.”
While the winner won’t be announced until some time in late January, online voting finished on Dec. 31 on the BroadwayWorld.com website. The number of votes each theater got has not yet been revealed. But when voting ceased on the evening of Dec. 31 the production was tied for first out of 20 other nominations for the award from across the state.
Founder and artistic director Chase Leyner of Weehawken said winning the award would be validation to the children in the performance.
“Being on the ground floor of these projects is such a creative and challenging collaboration of love,” said Leyner. “Being up for an award for one of them is really fulfilling. It would be validation and recognition of the hard work of the kids and the level of training they are getting, and level of passion they have to do these things.”
“The Ballad Of Janis Matthews and the Dodo Scouts” was an original musical performed last year in May of 2016, written by Giancarlo Rodaz and Rachel Dean and co-directed by Leyner.
“ ‘The Ballad Of Janis Matthews and the Dodo Scouts’ is an original work, which is very cool, and it’s set in the late 1960s,” said Leyner. “The lead, Janis, is from a divorced family who is uprooted when she moves with her mother to a new town. She is left with one thing, and finds pride and pleasure in being a dodo scout, which is like a brownie or a Girl Scout.”
“I love girl-centric shows,” said the mother of three. “We always want to do shows the kids don’t know or aren’t familiar with. I don’t like when the kids are worrying about what parts they will get.”
Hoboken Children’s Theater was founded in 2002 when Leyner, an actress by trade, wanted to provide for the growing interests of her eldest daughter Samantha.
“I started it for Samantha really,” said Leyner. “We had been at friend’s house in Massachusetts, we had gone to college together, and saw a performance she was in. All the way home [Samantha] sang all the songs from it.”
Although she has lived in Weehawken for 23 years, she decided to locate the company in Hoboken.
“My kids went to school in Hoboken, and I say I live in the suburb of Hoboken. I had a children’s clothing business [in Hoboken] prior and always liked the area. I think now it’s a nice central hub for all of my students and staff.”
Leyner first had about 40 children in the early days of her theater company, but that grew into 80 and now she has over 100 children from Hoboken, Hudson County, and Bergen County.
“It is so fulfilling to demand so much of them and help instruct them so they can turn around and give exactly what I asked for,” said Leyner. “Their level of professionalism and the quality of their acting is amazing. I decided when I started this that kids should not be treated like kids, I mean, I always came at it to do the most professional job while also having fun and learning.”
It’s not only about the awards
While the theater company has won other awards, including the Park Performing Arts Center Showtime Award in 2009, the New Jersey Family award for Top Acting Program in New Jersey in 2015, and Leyner was nominated last year for a new Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre Education, she said the work isn’t about winning awards.
“Being able to help create confidence in so many shy children is just as important as the accolades.” –Chase Leyner
“While we have won some awards and some of my students have gone on to perform on the ‘Lion King’ tour, or be the girl in ‘Billy Elliot’ and that’s great, I like the kids who we can help come out of their shells,” said Leyner. “Being able to help create confidence in so many shy children is just as important as the accolades…We get just as much satisfaction when a shy child finds their voice or conquers a fear or a dance step or a big note. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.“
Hoboken Children’s Theater, at 1400 Clinton St., offers classes year round, including programs for children from 4 years old through adulthood.
Every summer the company runs a program called SummerStage in which over 200 students participate.
Currently the company performs over 15 productions a year and will perform “James and The Giant Peach” on Jan. 20.
For more information go to www.hobokenchildrenstheater.com
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.