Summer ’22 at the Basie Center Academy came with international flair
Mexican and Portuguese students spent part of their summer vacations honing – and discovering – their respective acting bugs
(RED BANK) Sunshine, the shore and tourists are practically synonymous.
But for three international visitors this summer, it was the stage – and not sand – that filled their vacations with memories to last a lifetime.
Just months ago, Hailey Ascension B., 13, of Mexico, had never performed in front of an audience. Though she spoke very little English, her cousins – longtime students at the Basie Center Academy – persuaded her to audition for the Academy’s junior production of “Newsies.”
With a little encouragement – and surely some tips from her coercive cousins – she made the cut.
“I don’t really know the language,” she admitted through a translator, “and to be honest, I just followed the teachers examples, which I worked on and turned into my own thing.”
While taking cues and applying creative license sounds like the work of a pro, Hailey had never before performed in public. In fact, she says, “Newsies” was her very first foray into acting.
“I never had the opportunity before to participate in something like this,” she said in Spanish, a grin stretching ear to ear. “It makes me so happy to know that I was able to perform onstage – something I’ve never done before, but want to keep doing in the future.”
For the Basie Academy, its experiences like these – where new students come aboard and tap into previously unknown confidence – that makes the performing arts so special.
“It’s not just about fame and your name in lights,” says Samantha Giustiniani, who heads the Basie’s education department and operations of the Center’s Academy. “The arts, and acting in general, go a long way in teaching about about teamwork, and providing students the space to sharpen their determinations and express themselves with confidence.”
“The singing and dancing – that’s ‘within’ you,” Hailey says. “But it takes on a different meaning when you do it as a team.”
That teamwork, she says – along with new friendships and a newfound bite from the acting bug – is something she thinks will stick.
“I will take this inspiration and happiness back home with me,” she added, “as well as my memories with all of my new friends and coaches. And I definitely desire to participate in something like this again.”
NOT JUST FOR KIDS
Mariana Lobo Vaz and her boyfriend, Rodrigo Machado, of Portugal, never heard of the Basie Center before deciding to spend the summer with Lobo Vaz’s sister, who lives in Red Bank.
“We actually had nothing planned for the summer,” says Lobo Vaz. “So we decided that this would be a great time to come to America, improve our English, visit family… and explore,”
Lobo Vaz, 23, and Machado, 24, have studied acting their whole lives. But opportunities like the Basie Academy’s Adult Acting workshop are hard to come by where they’re from, so they took their proximity to the Basie Center as an opportunity to fine-tune their skills.
“We live in an area of Portugal where performing arts classes aren’t the norm,” she explained. “We would have to travel hours to Lisbon, our capital city, to experience acting classes or workshops like these.”
“Here,” Machado added, “you’re near New York, but you don’t even have to go there. These opportunities are right here where we’re staying.”
And never mind that they spent their summer learning, Machado says. Acting is in his blood, and for him and Lobo Vaz, it fit perfectly into their schedule of family and summer fun.
“For me, going to the beach and enjoying summer… I can do that in Portugal,” he said. “But if I have the opportunity to do more and learn something new, I’ll do it. We went to the beach, and went to the clubs. But we also came to the Basie, and we learned more about the Meisner (acting) technique.”
The Basie Academy offers classes for students of all ages – from beginners like Hailey who’ve never acted before, to teens looking to fine-tune skills for college auditions or just plain fun, to adults like Lobo Vaz and Machado, who look for experiences to ultimately hone their craft.
“It was a challenge for us to act in English, and with older adults,” Lobo Vaz added. “But we learned together, despite our different backgrounds. And that’s what made it interesting. Every week we came here, we felt like we got better. We improved.”