Even though I can’t sing or dance, the creator of Broadway Fantasy Camp says I’d fit right in with her program.
I’m over 18 — her minimum age — but consider going to a Broadway show more of a spectator sport than a participation one.
Lauren Class Schneider, a St. Louis native who taught speech and drama in Texas before the siren call of Broadway lured her to New York, has other ideas.
“There’s no talent required, just passion,” she says. “Somebody may not want to sing in public but might sing show tunes in the shower. That person should be at Broadway Fantasy Camp.”
“We allow adults who are theater fans to immerse themselves in the world of Broadway. They have head-shots taken, try costumes on, sing with real musical directors, learn dance and tap from choreographers, see shows, and meet actors. They get to know about their lives a little bit.”
Her friends are a Who’s Who of actors, writers, directors, musicians, and choreographers — many of whom mingle with the would-be stars that patronize her two-year-old Broadway Fantasy Camp.
Schneider came up with the idea after her sports-loving brothers brought their families to New York, joined her backstage after shows, and compared their inside peek at Broadway to baseball fantasy camp.
“Once it escaped their mouths, there was no turning back,” she says, calling her enterprise a first cousin to the fantasy camps where amateurs rub elbows with athletes they idolized.
As someone who participated in baseball fantasy camps in both Florida and Arizona, I agree. Although the experience is nothing short of exhilarating, the physical grind can be daunting.
According to Schneider, “An older woman was considering signing up for a Chicago session with that great Bob Fosse choreography but felt she didn’t have the stamina. I said we would make an adjustment for her by putting her on a bar stool near the piano and incorporate it into our choreography. She’d wear the bowler hat and use the other props while seated; with that comfort level, she decided to participate and never actually sat on the bar stool.”
Although Broadway Fantasy Camp ranges in duration from three hours to five days, the most popular program lasts one full day. Lodging is not included, allowing campers to select anything from a cousin’s couch to a Waldorf suite, and transportation is not needed because all the action is scheduled for the theater district. Even lunch, which is part of the all-day session, is within walking distance.
That meal, plus a late-night, after-show Champagne toast at the legendary Sardi’s, are often highlights for campers.
“Broadway heroes are a little different than baseball heroes — their theater careers last a lot longer,” Schneider says. “Tony winners and nominees often join in as our guests. They’ll spend 30-60 minutes with us, answering questions, being available for photos and autographs, telling their stories, and watching some of the things we’re doing in our rehearsal studio.”
Actors attached to ongoing shows won’t have time to perform with the amateurs, but often will acknowledge them during curtain calls after the campers see their shows.
Rehearsal studios for Broadway Fantasy Camp are often adjacent to studios used by professional productions. “Even when our campers go to the loo,” Schneider laughs, “they’re going to run into Broadway pros on their way. We all breathe the same air and sweat the same sweat.”
Most of the work is ensemble driven but if a camper wants to be featured in a solo dance or musical number, we are happy to accommodate that preference.
Participants who sign up for a public session know their working agenda in advance, but those signing up for private, curated sessions create their own. For a 50th birthday party that includes everyone from a 7-year-old nephew to a 75-year-old parent, Broadway Fantasy Camp has featured Oklahoma, outfitting the amateurs in cowboy hats and kerchiefs.
A theater buff as a little girl growing up in Missouri, Schneider loved watching the Thanksgiving Day parade. Now, she’s part of it.
Unlike Seinfeld’s Mr. Pitt, who wanted to fly the Woody Woodpecker balloon, she has been involved with the parade in various capacities for the past 25 years.
Being in the City gave Schneider the chance to join the parade rather than watch the telecast.
“One year my family and I were fire engine clowns,” she recalls. “We took buckets filled with confetti over to the crowd. People thought we were going to pour water on them but we poured confetti instead.
“I may run Broadway Fantasy Camp, but I’ve also enjoyed the chance to put on a costume, makeup, and a funny face and have people not know who I am. I liked seeing people along the street smile and laugh on Thanksgiving morning.”
With her long brown hair neatly coiffed into bangs over her forehead, Schneider still looks like a wide-eyed schoolkid who has fallen in love with the City that Never Sleeps…maybe because she doesn’t either.
“I’m what you would call a hyphenate,” says Schneider, the personification of a workaholic. “I continue to stage-manage television award shows and large TV events like Peter Pan (planned for NBC next month).”
She’s produced Broadway plays starring Estelle Parsons (The Velocity of Autumn), Valerie Harper (Looped), and Kathleen Turner (High), and is fresh from producing the American Theater Wing gala.
“I wasn’t cut out to be an actor, but I wanted to have a profession in the business,” says Schneider. I went from stage managing, directing, and producing to Broadway Fantasy Camp.”
All aspects of the novel program have done so well that Schneider wears a perpetual smile.
“Our choreographers are all Broadway dance captains who are incredibly nimble,” she explains. “If there’s a participant who’s sophisticated in their abilities, we’ll take that person aside and make an existing step more challenging. At the same time, we’re able to make sure the person with two left feet who never got the macarena right at their niece’s wedding is going to feel comfortable, confident, happy, and supported.”
Campers with ability could even coax job offers, Schneider suggests. “There’s always that chance, since our musical director is frequently the guy at the table who says, ‘We’re replacing such-a-such a role and there’s somebody I’d like to bring in for an audition.’”
Campers range from young teachers and veteran accountants to retirees with hopes of starting new careers, just as aspiring performers sometimes leap from obscurity in reality shows like America’s Got Talent and The Voice.
“When former campers actually audition, we hear about those auditions,” Schneider says.
Although audition invitations are the exception rather than the rule, business is brisk for Broadway Fantasy Camp. Even in January and February, when weather slows demand for show tickets, the organization doesn’t miss a beat.
Local businesses benefit, too — everything from restaurants and hotels to the rehearsal studios rented by the group and the theaters whose show tickets it buys. Broadway Fantasy Camp also helps nonprofits, from the American Theater Wing to the United Way.
Meeting an actor is a highlight for most campers. “Let’s say you’re going to see Kinky Boots,” Schneider offers. “We’ll work with an actor from Kinky Boots to meet at Sardi’s with one of our Broadway Fantasy Camp hosts and let you engage in an hour-long conversation with that actor. Where did he go to school? Did he go to school? How did he audition? Did he audition? What’s it like to be in a show eight times a week? How do you spend your precious one day off? What’s the funniest thing that happened to you? And of course what’s the most embarrassing thing?
“That often involves a wardrobe malfunction. To hear the actor describe it, and tell how the company recovered live, in front of 1200 people, is always amusing and makes you respect what happens on that stage on a daily basis. In that hour, you get to know that actor in a way that’s almost like family. Then when you see the show that night, you actually know someone in the cast, almost like a personal pal. That’s what Broadway Fantasy Camp is all about.”
Prices — typically $995 per person for a one-day session that includes VIP theater tickets — don’t dip when the weather cools. “People want to see Broadway 12 months per year,” Schneider says.
She believes Broadway Fantasy Camp is just that: a fantasy. A bachelorette dinner, for example, can be arranged for a bride who’s a big theater fan. If a celebrant isn’t interested in the Broadway Fantasy Camp experience but still wants a Broadway presence, Schneider provides iconic Broadway characters to mix and mingle with guests as well as to perform. Her clientele includes individuals, groups, birthday celebrants, college reunions, and others who love Broadway but pursued other careers. Schneider is also a prime resource for individuals interested in investing in Broadway.
Her potential market is enormous. Asked whether she likes the all-Broadway channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, Schneider just smiles. “Every time anybody anywhere talks about Broadway, it helps us,” she says. “The conversation is about theater, Broadway, the arts, civilization, and humanity. That helps the theatergoer, the arts lover, and the kid in school who needs to have his creative mind unlocked so he can make something new that requires imaginative thinking. You can do that with theater.”
Since Broadway attracts all ages, marrying it to the fantasy camp concept was a no-brainer.
“This was something I had to do,” says Schneider of her venture. “We sprinkle authentic Broadway fairy dust on outsiders who wanted access. We make dreams come true.”
For further information, call 212-713-0366 or see www.broadwayfancamp.com.