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Blue Fire Stage Company’s Next Act: Theatrical Workshops in Haddam

Submitted by Rebecca Degnan.

Spelling Bee Finale

(Sept. 22, 2020) — This past summer, Haddam’s Blue Fire Stage Company pulled off what many thought was impossible – a live, outdoor, socially distanced theatrical production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Performed at Parmelee Farm in Killingworth, the company worked closely with local health departments throughout the rehearsals and performances, and their nearly sold-out run was a huge success. Persevering through a pandemic, a tornado warning, hurricanes, a power outage and even one show performed fully on generator power, this small nonprofit theatre company demonstrated their creativity, determination, teamwork and attention to detail to an audience that was hugely grateful to experience live theatre after so many months of quarantine. Now, Blue Fire is using those same qualities to launch yet another creative project – fall theatrical workshops for kids, teens and adults, held outdoors at the former Haddam Elementary School.

Blue Fire’s mission statement is shared on their website: “The mission of Blue Fire Stage Company is to build a collaborative, diverse and accepting community through the arts and arts education…” Over the past year, their main focus has been on the performance aspect of their mission. “We are now excited to begin focusing on our educational goals,” says Rebecca Degnan, one of the founders of Blue Fire. “Running classes and workshops has always been a part of our plan. We needed a space to do that, and it was very important to us that we stay local to the HK community. We are so excited to have been given the opportunity to rent space at the former Haddam Elementary School, which we can now call our home. This gives us the opportunity to begin running classes and workshops.”

The fall workshops being offered by Blue Fire focus on a variety of performance skills. Each workshop is offered for a variety of age groups, including adults, and are appropriate for performers of all experience levels. Small class sizes allow the teachers to cater their instruction and feedback to each individual student at their level. There are workshops that focus on auditioning skills, including a unique workshop that helps students get the most out of a cold read at an audition, storytelling through movement, character development, improvisation, and a theatre games workshop as well. “We wanted to create a workshop curriculum for everyone,” says Johanna Milani, the Education Coordinator. “No matter your level of experience, whether you have never performed before, or if you have been performing for years, you will be able to find a workshop to suit your needs.” Class descriptions are available by downloading their workshop brochure here: Fall Workshop Brochure

Blue Fire’s workshop teachers are experienced performers and teachers, and those who have attended their shows are sure to recognize them. They are Rachel Ballasy, Rebecca Degnan, and HK alumni Johanna Regan Milani and Henry Tobelman.

Rachel Ballasy is a performer, director, and choreographer whose talent and skills have been on display from the midway (Hersheypark) to the main stage in PA and CT, most recently performing as Olive Ostrovsky in Blue Fire’s summer production of ‘Spelling Bee.’ Rachel started working with young theatre minds as a theatre camp director in her hometown of Ellington. She went on to direct and choreograph middle school and high school students (Seussical, White Christmas and Beauty and the Beast to name a few) for the past five years.  

Rebecca Degnan has a BMus from the Hartt School of Music. Her first teaching experience was at Neighborhood Music School’s Audubon Arts Summer Camp, and she loves to bring the fun and energy of a camp environment to all of her teaching experiences. She has taught voice through her private studio in Haddam since 2004.She was the chorus teacher at HKMS for many years before earning her MS in Counseling from CCSU and becoming a school counselor there. She is the founder and director of the Shoreline Singers choral program, and has music directed and accompanied for a number of theatrical groups throughout CT. She is the President of the Board of Directors of Blue Fire, and a founding member.

Johanna Regan Milani is the Educational Coordinator for Blue Fire. She has been coordinating the curriculum development and scheduling for the fall workshop series, and will be teaching many of the workshops. She is an actor, singer, and director based out of CT, with a BA in musical theatre from Ashland University, and her MAT in education from CCSU. She has performed with numerous companies across CT in roles such as Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Tracy Turnblad (Hairspray), Baker’s Wife (Into the Woods), and Lady of the Lake (Spamalot). Johanna has taught in both high school and elementary school settings, and has worked with actors of all ages for over a decade.

Henry Tobelman has been doing local theatre since the age of 12 and has performed in shows including Les MIserables (Javert), Jesus Christ Superstar (Pontius Pilot), Little Shop of Horrors (voice of Audrey II), Mary Poppins (Bert) and many more. He was a head counselor at YPCCA Jr Theatre Camp for 5 years, where he taught character building, scene analysis, staging and set design. He has taught theatre and music for students ages 5-45 for over six years, including guitar, piano, voice and beginner drums. In addition, he writes original music for his band, King Bongo, and is working on theatrical writing in his free time.

Blue Fire is no stranger to navigating health and safety requirements during COVID. Having successfully and safely run outdoor rehearsals and performances this past summer, they are quite familiar with all requirements and follow them diligently. All workshops will be offered outdoors, and students and teachers will be observing social distancing guidelines, including wearing masks, maintaining a 6-foot distance, and increasing this distance to at least 12 feet when students are performing without masks. “We are ready and willing to make adjustments to our classes and procedures if health department guidelines change,” says Rebecca. “We are working closely with our local health department in order to stay aware of any changes as they happen.” Information about costs can be found on the website.

What does the future hold for Blue Fire? “Unfortunately, an in-person winter show is unlikely due to COVID,” says board member Christa Douyard. “However, we are looking forward to continuing our education program, and hope to offer virtual classes in the winter.” As soon as the company is able to perform safely again, they look forward to planning their second mainstage performance, and hope to host a wine-tasting cabaret fundraiser as well, either in-person or virtually. One thing is for sure, nothing will keep this little-theatre-that-could down. For more information on Blue Fire or their Fall Workshop Series, visit them at www.bluefirestage.org, or on Facebook or Instagram @bluefirestage.

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