A review of our online original musical "Connect Four" written by John Sasso.
"The students at the New England School of Performing Arts (NESPA) have taken on a new challenge. In addition to having to move their activities on-line and manage in this new era of social distancing, they like other theater kids have adapted to the new normal. This has given them an opportunity to refocus on some core acting, singing and dancing skills in lieu of their annual spring production. However, Kelly Walsh, the Artistic Director, had something special in mind. She felt there was a group of students who were ready to try something different, that being writing and producing their own original musical.
NESPA is more than just a theater group, it has become like family for many of the students. They experience many interpersonal challenges and successes and learn more than just the theater basics. Kelly has had a passion for theater since she was a child. Most recently she founded NESPA to continue her goal of sharing the theater experience with young students. She has developed her own style and, like in any family, her traits and the traits of her students make the experience unique. The students set out to capture this experience in a musical of their own. This included development of an overall theme, defining a plot, establishing the characters, and then breaking it down into two acts and multiple scenes. In addition, the students composed 6 original songs that supported different pieces of the musical.
The musical is set at the NESPA studio, and follows a group of students as they audition, are cast, practice and put on a musical (for the purposes of the plot they chose a parody on an existing musical). The underlying theme has to do with their teacher’s (aka Kelly) obsession with playing the game Connect4. At different points in the musical students challenge Kelly to the Connect4 game, each with the same conclusion (Kelly always wins), until the final scene. I won’t give away the ending, but it isn’t exactly what you would think. If you ever have a chance to visit the NESPA studio, you will find a life-sized Connect4 game in the Theater (it’s 3 feet tall by 6 feet long).
This past Saturday, the students presented the musical to parents and a group of other NESPA students and their families using an on-line platform. At first it was a bit odd to see the students not directly interacting on stage, but it didn’t seem to affect their performance. “Entering” and “Leaving” the stage was accomplished by managing the video and speaker view functions of the on-line platform. What remained the same was the student’s enthusiasm for the show. Using facial expressions and body language added to the overall atmosphere. I was told after that they had to practice not only their lines and songs, but also the technical controls needed during the show. After final bows, the audience erupted with applause (after coming off “mute”).
As a parent of a student that has been with Kelly for many years, I have to say this has been one of the best experiences of my son’s theater career. If you are interested in classes as NESPA, feel free to visit their website at: https://www.neschoolofperformingarts.org.
Note: A total of 12 students participated in this program. They included residents from Reading, North Reading, Wakefield, Wilmington, Lexington and Burlington."
I have been working with Kelly for over 8 years and spent 3 years in this wonderful, new environment. These programs are where I learned what my passion was and what really makes me happy. I have gained so many skills over the years that I never thought I would. I have grown so much as a person and an actress thanks to Kelly. She is always there for me when I need her, and she is not only my director but a friend. I always look forward to her camps starting because they are my happiest time of the year and I never want to leave. The kids you meet and work with become so close with you and you create a strong bond that will last forever. Without these programs, I would not be the person I am today and I love the camps with all my heart. I am so glad that I was able to have so many amazing theatre experiences. Megan C. (Wakefield, MA)
I have been doing theatre with Kelly since I was ten and I am now entering my senior year of High School. Since beginning, I have made many close friends from her camps and programs, as well as gained so much knowledge about acting and confidence onstage. Kelly is an amazing director who is both helpful and fun. I’d recommend her programs to anyone looking for an exciting and welcoming place to perform. Jill S. (Andover, MA)
I have been performing with Kelly for about 8 years. It all started with Alice in Wonderland and after that show I knew I loved working with this lady. Her camps have become like a second home to me. I have made some of my best friends there and Kelly has become like a second mom to me. I could do theatre anywhere but I keep coming back because it feels like family. Chloe H (Andover, MA)
Kelly's summer theater camps have been the staple for both my son and daughter for many years. I have been wowed by each performance and completely amazed by what my children and their fellow actors can do under the magical hands of Kelly and Co. The best part, however, is watching each child emerging from the backstage after each performance to greet family and friends, beaming with confidence and pride. Looking back at the last eight years, my daughter, who had the tiniest voice on stage when first started, has grown into a confident actor and public speaker, projecting loud and clear. Her years of training with Kelly has also helped her getting good roles in productions at her school as well as earning a spot on the Massachusetts Junior District as a vocalist. She also very much enjoys doing the sets and costumes. My son, now 16, volunteers at the camp as a stage manager after years being on stage. All these productions have become part of him and he loves every moment of it being an actor and now a stage manager. From time to time, he still hums the tunes from musicals years back. My children have developed incredible friendships. As theater parents, we often refer to our children's friends by the roles they played on stage. If the children bring up a name that we don't recognize, they'd say, "she is Charlotte in Charlotte's Web" or "He is Danny in Grease". Kelly and her staff are incredibly dedicated and talented. After all these years, it feels like a family. Helen Y.(Lexington, MA)
We are huge fans of New England School of Performing Arts. and the fabulous Kelly Walsh. In the 4 years we have known her, we have learned this: She inspires creativity, acceptance of self and others, and the gift for kids to believe in themselves because she brings out their strengths. My daughter Anna who has down syndrome has been welcomed with open arms by the company and participated in shows, classes and cabarets. We can’t say enough good things about Kelly and the gifts she has in encouraging and supporting each of her students. Karen B. (Melrose, MA)
Kelly Walsh is not only an amazing person but an incredible teacher and director. My daughter has been with the New England School of Performing Arts for several years and worked with Kelly prior to attending the NESPA. Kelly doesn’t just teach her students how to act but indoctrinates them into the world of theater. My daughter has touched on all domains of theater with Kelly, from learning how to audition, to set design, choreography and stage management. She has really grown and taken what’s she’s learned to her schools’ theater programs where she is flourishing. Kelly and the NESPA have really nurtured and promoted her love of theater. Jane T. (Reading, MA)
As a parent, I have always been impressed with how well Kelly is able to not only relate to her students, but also foster an environment where they feel comfortable with putting themselves out there on stage. Kelly truly invests in her students, providing a well-rounded program to develop the skills needed to succeed. Her programs are geared to the wide range of experience and skills of the students, challenging those that need the push, and giving everyone the opportunity to perform. Having seen our son mature and grow in theater, dance and singing, we are confident that Kelly has been a big part of that. I would highly recommend Kelly and her programs for both serious actors looking to gain exposure to experience and skill development, and to those looking for a fun outlet for children wanting the opportunity to build confidence on stage. John S. (Reading, MA)