What’s New With U? – Week 4

We kicked off Week Four with smiles on our faces, thanks to the first-ever Pool Party on Saturday. The fun continued throughout the week with incredible Dance and Drama performances as well as the first of two Quidditch tournaments. With such sparkling creativity and collaborations on display this week, we end our first session on a high note as we bid goodbye to some of our students, and set the stage for the last few weeks of the season.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from this week at Usdan.




Artists cannot create in a vacuum. As artists, we’d be remiss to think our respective art forms could truly flourish without one another. A painting can inspire a playwright. A musical score can inspire an architect. A piece of choreography can inspire a photographer. Art inspires art. – Erica Giglio-Pac, Usdan’s Theater Department


FROM MY PERSPECTIVE – Creative writing

Since 1968, Usdan has been a place for children of all ages and backgrounds to break out of their shells and explore the wonders of the arts. It gives a whole new definition to summer camp, as it allows kids to discover what the future could possibly be for them, along with a full summer of enjoyment. My name is Simran, and this is my second year going to Usdan. I love to read, write, and paint. Prior to coming to this camp, I was pretty shy, especially in school. This completely changed after setting foot on campus. I was amazed by all the different opportunities and creativity Usdan had in store for me. I made friends with tons of very talented and kind people and I learned so much from here.

Since Creative Writing was my major, I learned a lot about expressing yourself through your writing, and how things can be interpreted in a million different ways. Perspective is key in your writing. This class helped me to really enhance my writing through numerous exercises and techniques. This made writing essays and paragraphs in my school a piece of cake. Additionally, I was also able to develop my presentation skills. One experience that I really learned from was last year’s Photography Collaboration showcase. As writers, we were required to write a poem based on a picture from one of the photographers. Then, the poems would be read at the showcase for public viewing. I was afraid to go up and present my work to all the people.However, I read my work aloud, and I felt really proud of myself afterwards. It helped me rid of my fear of presenting and majorly increased my enthusiasm to present during the school year.

This year, we are collaborating with the juniors in theater to write a play about freedom of expression, much to my excitement. I have never written and helped guide a play before, and this learning experience is thrilling. I get to see my words come to life, and learn along the way that it is not easy to write this type of material. It requires constantly going back and forth with ideas and sometimes starting all over again. I now know that perfection only happens after you make mistakes and work on them. In addition, we are also about to hold another photography showcase, and I’m super happy to be able to present my hard work again. Creative Writing here at Usdan has been so beneficial for me, not only in my school work, but for me as a person.

Read Simran’s full essay here.


TEACHING U: Meet the theater department

Since its creation, Usdan’s Theater Department has always played a leading role in creating memorable summers. The level of talent of our young stage performers has been staggering, matched only by the incredibly accomplished teachers who help guide them throughout each season. We caught up with three of our theater teachers to get their perspectives on art, performing and their experiences at Usdan.

First up: Michael Schwendemann, a familiar face at Usdan – and not just because he has been a background player for top TV shows and films including Gotham, Boardwalk Empire, Madam Secretary and more. Michael returns to Usdan for his 10th year in the Theater Department. Michael’s love of theater doesn’t stop at the end of summer: during the school year, he is a member of the Huntington High School English Department. Over his 15 year tenure there, he has directed 24 productions ranging from “Beauty and the Beast” to “The Laramie Project.” He has also appeared on the stages of the Genesis Repertory Ensemble, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the American Globe Theatre and the NYC Opera.

Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

John Steinbeck said it better than I can: “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist, and teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” I can only hope to live up to Steinbeck’s words. My students and I not only learn from each other, but create who we are, for we are all works in progress.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

Summer at Usdan is the opportunity to rekindle old friendships and begin new ones, all while working towards the common goal of creating a one of a kind performance experience that will live forever in our memory. What can be more exciting than that?

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

The Hamlet U (with the hand and skull), for it reminds me every day to teach my students to “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.”

Next, meet Erica Giglio-Pac, a musical theater maven who regularly performs and directs performances in NYC and Long Island. A graduate of NYU and the University of Buffalo, Erica is celebrating her second summer at Usdan and her ninth in the NYC Department of Education. Some of her favorite career moments? Singing the national anthem for the Mets at Citi Field, and performing her own stand-up comedy act at the King’s Head Comedy Club in downtown London.

Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

When striving to keep a classroom or studio full of students engaged, I often call upon my acting chops knowing I have to keep my “audience” with me and, of course, wanting more! On a deeper note, I believe a successful classroom community and artistic community thrive with the very same ingredients: collaboration, respect, passion, and discipline. Knowing this recipe has helped me as both an artist and educator. In addition, when you are an educator and artist you never have enough knowledge; I’ve always said, “A smart actor is a good actor.” I try to grow alongside my students every day by keeping informed, researching, and asking lots of questions. More often than not, my students are the ones that teach me, not only about the world and art but about myself.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

This summer, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with my friend Jackie in the photography department. Her young photographers are taking headshots for my Audition Bootcamp actors. I’m also excited to collaborate with David and his students in the Creative Writing department, using acting improvisation to inspire a student-devised play for young actors’ voices with my Actors’ Craft students. And, most recently, I’m thrilled about the collaboration between my young actors and Usdan’s Artist-In-Residence Pedro Lasch to develop tableaux work around the project, “Dreaming in the Woods.”

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

The drama mask and rainbow are my favorites!

Finally, Marie Danvers, a seasoned performer best known for for her star turn as Christine in the Broadway and National Touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” She has sung all over the world as Maria in “West Side Story” and continues to perform as a featured soloist with major symphony orchestras including the Long Island Philharmonic and Hartford Symphony Orchestra, among many others. As an associate professor at Five Towns College, she leads the musical theater training program and directs the college’s main stage musicals. In spring 2017, the college awarded her their annual “Lorraine Kleinman Excellence in Education Award” for outstanding work training future performing artists.

Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

Being an artist has helped me as an educator because I feel I can fully understand the challenges that the students face. I have continued to perform for this sole purpose. I understand the fears, the joys, the feeling of adrenaline pulsing through the body before an audition or performance. I relate to the disappointments that the students experience, and I can give them tools to push through and continue to follow their dreams. I also know deep in my heart how important it is to have a dream and to follow that dream with all of your being.

As an educator I am constantly learning from my students. They teach me patience, empathy, and to never give up. They are often fearless and ready to experiment and be flexible. They remind me of the joys of performing and how dreams are alive and strong. They strengthen my belief that working with others in collaboration is one of the strongest tools we have as theatre artists and as a society. As well, having to articulate in words about how the process works has helped me solidify my own process as a performer.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

Usdan is my summer home. Driving through the beautiful trees on the path into work reminds me that I am going to be with people with passion: passion for the arts; for music, dance, theatre; the environment. This summer, I am teaching a new class with Warren Bloom that will direct the students to see the underlying works of a piece of theatre. We will be working on the musical, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I am very much looking forward to encouraging the students to look beyond the final product and see why a story is important; why we are moved by certain themes and ideas; how a playwright finds his way into the heart of an audience, and more. We are also very lucky to be rounding out the class by going into the city to actually see the show on Broadway.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

I have to say that my favorite U is the Theatre U. I’m just a theatre geek. What can I say?!


At Usdan, we believe art making is brave making, friend making, freedom making and future making. That’s been at the core of our work for nearly fifty years, as we’ve proudly welcomed campers to the 140-acre campus to explore and experiment.

Usdan remains committed to offering young artists the opportunity to create. We hold true to the late Elliot Eisner’s belief that, in addition to the technical skills acquired, there are many life lessons to be learned from the study of art, including:

  • Teaching children to trust their instincts and not rely on set rules and predetermined limitations.
  • Showing children that problems often have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer.
  • Providing children with different ways to see and interpret the world.
  • Illustrating that small changes can make a significant impact: one line, one note, one movement can change the meaning of a piece.
  • Offering access to new worlds and creating a path to understanding. It’s easy to ignore numbers or words, but there is no limit to the ways in which art can build bridges between people and elevate ideas.

Adapted from Elliot Eisner’s “10 Lessons the Arts Teach.”

Share your thoughts with us at questions@usdan.org.

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