Next Gen Founder reflects on Theatre’s impact
By Lexi Marceron
Next Generation Theatre
As a starry eyed 16-year-old, I lived and breathed theatre. I was actively involved in any and all theatre and dance programs the area had to offer, and I was determined to someday make my lifelong fantasy of becoming a professional New York City actress a reality. I surrounded myself with other like-minded kids who loved the arts as much as I did, but unfortunately the opportunity to showcase our passions was limited to two short weeks in the summer when we’d all go to theatre camp and get the kind of intensive training that we craved year-round.
The rest of the year was sufficed by school plays, dance recitals and listening to the original broadway cast recordings of shows on repeat that we could only imagine seeing live. Though it was a day program and only lasted two weeks, theatre camp was expensive. I knew, even as a young kid, that exposure to the arts is a luxury, making it available only to the few who could afford it.
My parents worked tremendously hard to pay for all of my dance and acting classes, voice lessons, trips in New York and theatre tickets, although sometimes it was a financial burden. I shared a vision that I had with my mom, Tracey Marceron, a studio artist, avid theatre supporter and my biggest cheerleader; who earned her art degree in the Washington DC area (where she grew up). Together, we began to imagine a space where the arts could be offered in our community year-round regardless of age, experience or socioeconomic status– and that is how “Next Generation Theatre” was born.
As soon as the 160-year-old building that originally housed Farrington Brothers Hardware and Dry Goods (later known as the old Thomson & Lyford building) went on the market, we knew we had found our location. We spent months gut-renovating the building; first as a family, and then later with the help of friends and members of the community as it became public that we were planning a very special addition to the Brewer Waterfront. The front half of the downstairs became transformed into a gift shop where my mom would sell artwork as well as antiques, quirky home goods, eclectic decorations and furniture. The back half of the downstairs was renovated into a 127-seat black box theatre that would house all of our children’s musical theatre and dance performances, as well as local and touring folk and bluegrass musicians, big band shows, improv groups, magic shows and basically any other kind of event imaginable. Half of the upstairs area was converted into a dance studio where I taught the first dance class to four pre-schoolers.
Next Generation Dance Studio has since expanded to over 100 students per dance session of all levels and ages (including adult classes) and an additional studio space across the street. The rest of the upstairs became an art studio, where my mom teaches different techniques and is able to share her love of visual art with the youngsters in the community (some of whom are also involved in our theatre and dance programs as well.)
One of my childhood best friends, James Bartol, and I dreamed up the kind of curriculum for our theatre students that we had always wanted in our own studies, and created an all-inclusive environment where everyone who auditioned received a part. A key element that made our program unique and different from any other in the area was that the theatre classes were entirely run by high school students.
While recently reflecting on Next Generation Theatre’s tenth successful year, James, now a New York based production designer for film and television said: “I feel so proud to have been a founding member of Next Generation Theatre, and I will always be so thankful for the impact it made on my adolescence and on to my adult life as an artist. Tracey has cultivated this very special, creative and supportive safe-space for everyone–kids and teachers–to explore creatively, express themselves and share positive experiences and memories with each other. NGT is not just about raising performers, it’s about giving young people the support, confidence and creative skills to become inspired and compassionate adults.”
Our first full length musical, “The Wind in the Willows”, featured eleven local child performers, ages 4-14, and opened mid-August of 2007 to a sold out audience. James and I continued to direct for two more years, finishing out our high school education, and both moved to New York City in the fall of 2009 to pursue our own careers as a filmmaker and an actress respectively. Our team expanded as our program gained popularity, and the following summer we hired Rachel Caron on as our resident choreographer (and later director), a sophomore in high school at the time.
When asked how directing at Next Generation Theatre impacted her personally, Rachel, who now lives in New York and works as a dancer and actress, said: “Next Generation Theatre sparked my passion for teaching and choreographing. It is where I found a family within the performing arts and everything was done through love.”
One of the final shows that James and I directed at Next Generation Theatre, “Sleeping Beauty”, introduced us to Kate Fogg and Elliot Tuttle, both 8-year-olds at the time, who starred as the The Green Fairy and the prince, respectively. Elliot and Kate, along with several others, continued to stay loyal students long after James and I finished directing, and eventually graduated into the roles of directors, which, of course, was what we had in mind when naming the theatre “Next Generation”. Both, now seniors in high school and planning to follow the same career paths as James and myself, think of the Next Generation Theatre as their second home.
Kate, (a shy little girl when I first met her) who blossomed into an insightful and eloquent young woman, recently shared with me: “I’ve truly grown up at Next Generation Theatre and it has been the most formative experience for me, as a student and now as a director. I have witnessed the same priceless feelings of friendship, family and growth as a young performer that I felt as an 8- year-old attending my first session of theatre in 2008. It is the absolute most rewarding job a high schooler could ask for and has become my second family and home!”
Elliot, who I remember as an adorable little boy who loved to be in the spotlight (with a now deep voice and a frame that towers several inches taller than me) added: “It’s helped me cultivate my own artistic ability and expression. Next Generation Theatre has taught me a lot about leadership, too. How to work with other people and create a product that you’re proud of.”
Emily Hughes, who began to take classes shortly after James and I finished directing, and now directs the program alongside Elliot and Kate as well as organizes the fundraising and social media aspects of the theatre said: “Next Generation Theatre has helped turn me into a leader. The environment at the theatre is so welcoming and I have made lifelong friends! I can’t imagine my life without Next Gen!”
My mother, who has tirelessly worked nearly every day for over ten years now, oversees all operations as the Artistic Director. She has seen over a thousand kids come through the doors of Between Friends Art Center over the years, many of whom have gone on to pursue a career in the arts, thanks to their foundation at Next Generation Theatre. I sometimes can’t help but feel guilty for having a grand idea that transpired into the success that it has, and not being there to actively see it grow and flourish. But I’ve admired the work from afar that my mom has done to honor and keep our original vision alive.
Since I moved to New York, I occasionally come back to teach masterclass workshops and perform in concerts alongside some of my former students, but it is truly because of my mother’s tenacity that Next Generation Theatre continues to thrive. “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” is our motto at Next Generation Theatre, and regardless of the success I’ve found in NYC, I’ll never forget the roots planted with love and encouragement by my family ten years ago in my hometown.
Theatre and Dance classes at Between Friends Art Center begin the week of Sept. 3. Art Classes begin Tuesday, Sept. 12, and we will be accepting enrollment for Theatre classes through Sept. 1. There are no registration fees and everyone will get a part in one or more of our three upcoming shows! Call 989-7100 for more information on our programs and tuition costs or go to our website nextgenerationtheatre.com. Located at 39 Center St. Brewer.
Lexi Marceron is the Founder of Next Generation Theatre and Dance Studio. She lives and works in Manhattan, NYC. leximarceron.com