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Play Group Theatre, Where Play Acting Is Fun and Educational

The cast of The cast of “Into the Woods” before dress rehearsal.

By Pat Casey
White Plains Examiner
May 15, 2012

Steve and Jill Abusch have created a place where magic happens every day. It is The Play Group Theatre, a White Plains based theater school, housed at 1 North Broadway.

Serving students from ages 4 to 17, Jill Abusch said: “We had the idea about 17 years ago to provide a place for children to study acting that was sophisticated and challenging, yet warm and nurturing. We wanted to create a place with balance for kids.”

As a couple, the husband and wife team approach PGT with skills that complement each other. While Jill spends time with the student actors as they prepare for dress rehearsal, Steve is working with the tech team to make sure the lights and sound are ready to go.

The school moved into its current location, the former New York Sports Club facility, about two and a half years ago. Carol Scheffler, a member of the PGT board with two children who have studied at the school, said: “You could not find a better place.” Scheffler, an actress herself, explained that she had been looking for an acting school for her children and PGT was just right. “Whether or not they go on to pursue a career in acting, children learn to develop personal skills here,” Scheffler explained. Many of the students, who come from White Plains and other areas of Westchester, have graduated and risen to the top of their field. “Some have gone into theater, others movies and TV,” Scheffler said.

As an active parent and board member, Scheffler remembered how once PGT had decided to move into the new space, everyone went into action to have the theater ready for their next scheduled production. “We had only three and a half months to get it all done,” she said. “But we pulled together, raised the money we needed, and did it,” she said.

Dan Gorka, Associate Tech and Master Carpenter for the theater, and a graduate of PGT, was part of the construction crew. “I helped to build this space,” Gorka said, obviously proud to be a part of team. The theater, with 225 seats, sits in what was once a big gymnasium, but you’d never know it. There is a tech room at the back, a full stage, and room for a live limited-piece orchestra off to the side, above the stage.

Last week, the student actors were preparing for the dress rehearsal of “Into the Woods,” which opened Sunday, May 13, with remaining performances, Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Make-up, costumes, and even wigs, were being applied. Those student actors who were already dressed or waiting for a seat at the dressing table, were sitting together working on their homework, chatting about the books they were currently reading, or helping each other study.

The students are a part of the Main Stage program. A few are graduating this year and “Into the Woods,” is their last production with PGT. The narrator for this show is a young man who has just moved up to the main stage. He was excited to have been challenged to take his script and rework it for a younger and more interactive presentation.

Jill Abusch explained that often the students move around the different programs offered. “The Little Theatre is for children ages four to seven,” she says. “They delve into imagination and learn to express their own voices.” The Studio Stage program is a smaller group and combines class and rehearsal into each session so students are learning acting technique and perfecting their musical theater skills. The Main Stage program includes an audition and preparation for a fully produced show. “The older students often move back and forth from the Studio Stage to the Main Stage, depending on their schedules,” Jill Abusch explained. “We are very fluid here.”

Following the production of “Into the Woods,” another Main Stage class will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Show dates are Sunday, June 3, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m. an 7 p.m.

“We do a lot of Shakespeare,” Jill Abusch explained. “The children love Shakespeare, but we will take on most subjects and most types of performances, from the serious to the playful.”

PGT also offers a summer theatre program that includes a Main Stage performance, a Teen Conservatory, Young Actor’s Ensemble, PGT Kids Improv Week and Little Theatre programs. For more information visit playgroup.org.

The Play Group Theatre is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization made possible in part by generous donors like you. Thank you for your support!