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Master class provides behind-the-scenes look at theater life

Almost every high school has an annual musical, but how often do students take their careers to the next level? Shea’s Performing Arts Center is helping students pursue theatrical interests through its master class program called “The Phantom Unmasked.”

With 20 students from 12 schools throughout Western New York, the program seeks to enrich a wide range of high schoolers. Students participate in eight jam-packed workshops, leading up to a group outing to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” which is playing at Shea’s this week. Skype sessions with actors and directors, as well as other crew members vital to the show; talks with local artists; and performance exercises are all encompassed in the program’s five-week duration, which ended March 10.

But these students aren’t just gaining experience on an educational level.

“It’s been a positive outlet for me,” said Cameron Markott, a sophomore at Kenmore East High School. “I’m really learning to portray my own character, since I’m usually a quiet person.”

The personal level of learning helps students gain an understanding of what a career in performing arts is all about.

“It’s helpful hearing from someone who has actually made it,” says Nick Kagelmacher, a sophomore at North Tonawanda High School. “It’s taught me that being a performer is a possible career path, if you so choose it.”

Students also develop their skills by writing original monologues that are performed at a final reception.

“People always talk about that triple threat of dancing, singing and acting,” Nick said. “The program has been a great way for me to advance my lacking acting abilities.”

Other participants agree.

“I’ve danced almost my whole life. That comes natural,” Cameron said. “But I do less acting, and the program has definitely helped me improve that aspect of my performing skills.”

Specific to the Broadway hit “The Phantom of the Opera,” the program provides insight as to how the show, which is more than 25 years old, is performed in the modern era. In a Skype session with David Ruttura, the resident director of the traveling tour, students learned how an annotated script is translated into a digital system. Along with the physical instructions of a show is the content of the performance itself. Ruttura explained how certain aspects of the show and its intentional impressions are slightly changed over time to adapt to a modern audience.

The schools that participated in the master class are Leonardo Da Vinci, McKinley, Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Kenmore East, Williamsville South, Chautauqua Lake, Mount Mercy Academy, North Tonawanda, Global Concepts Charter School, Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School, Nardin Academy and Orchard Park.

Performances of “The Phantom of the Opera” will continue through March 29 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. For more information, call 847-1410 or visit

Alexa Rosenblatt is a junior at City Honors.