Naperville, IL

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Same Programming, New Name! Academy of the Arts is now Illinois Conservatory for the Arts

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impact musical theatre

Session 1: june 10–14 | Session 2: August 5–9

A brand-new show based on the life of entrepreneur Joy Mangano will have its world premiere on December 7th. Opening at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, Joy the Musical will feature none other than Mean Girls actress Erika Henningsen in the title role. With a cast including several Broadway alums, this definitely looks like the show to watch.

The uplifting true story is about one woman’s triumphant climb from divorce to single motherhood and bankruptcy, to becoming the wildly successful dynamo that all started with the invention of the Miracle Mop. Movie lovers will recall that Jennifer Lawrence played the title role in 2015 earning her an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe. Could a Tony be in Erika’s future? Only time will tell.

Erika has a special place in the hearts of Academy of the Arts students. Last July she led a masterclass at our Impact Musical Theater camp and we wish her luck as she brings Joy to theatergoers this winter.

In real life Erika couldn’t be more different to Cady Heron, the character who earned her a Critics Circle nomination when she originated the role in Mean Girls: The Musical on Broadway. Rather than trying to destroy people like the most popular girl in school, Regina George, she loves to build them up by offering master classes around the country.

We asked her how she landed the role and why she loves to teach.

“When I was called back for Mean Girls, I was told they wanted to hear a pop song from Cady, not a song from the show,” she told the enthusiastic class in a Q and A session. “So I thought about what song a girl who was brought up in Africa with parents from the Sixties would pick. Someone sweet, intense and strong so I picked the Rolling Stones Ruby Tuesday and You Don’t Own Me.”

Erika explained that being chosen for a show is like being a puzzle piece.

“All of the Plastics were four inches taller than me, so I looked more vulnerable standing next to them,” she said.

However, today the trend is more like anyone can sing any role.

“Don’t feel bound to certain things because of what you look like,” she said. “There’s more out there for you.”

For Erika, teaching is a labor of love.

“It’s the thing I do in between being an actor and it’s just as much a part of my identity,” she said after class. “It helps me think on my feet and problem solve. It helps me stay alert.”

Erika was impressed not only by the talent in the classroom, but how quickly the students became supportive of one another despite the wide range of age and experience.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re in 12th Grade to college age or first grade to sixth, the basics still apply,” she said. “The incentives may be greater for 12th graders, but sixth graders generally show less fear and they can learn from each other. Everything has to come from joy.”

Erika brings a huge amount of positive energy to the room.

“It’s just about getting them up on their feet,” she explained. She believes the worst thing she could do is to stop a child who is off key or who loses their way in a song.

“If you put ideas in their head they’ll never come back,” she said. “If I only have each one for six minutes, I want to give the most I can out of that experience. If we harp on about what they’re doing wrong or lacking in, they will never build confidence to turn up in class. I always encourage them so they don’t quit before they’ve started.”

session 1 • june 10–14, 2024

session 2 • August 5–9, 2024

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IMPACT is popular and fills up fast! You'll be forwarded to the registration form to grab your spot.

Tyler McKenzie / Dance

TYLER MCKENZIE has been a part of Hamilton since 2017. Other credits include – Broadway & National Tours: Matilda, Mamma Mia. He has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Western Carolina University and has served on many faculties and teaching staff around the country, including the Musical Theatre Faculty at Penn State University. IG: @tylrmckenzie

Melissa Foster / Voice

Melissa Foster is a Professor of Instruction in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, specifically teaching voice and topics in musical theatre such as Pop/Rock Vocal Style, and Pop Rock Musical Theatre. At Northwestern, she is the recipient of both the 2021 Galbut Outstanding Faculty Award and the 2022 Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction Award. She values her time inside the classroom just as much as she does outside, and simultaneously serves as 1 of 5 Faculty in Residence on Northwestern’s campus, mentoring students via their residential experience. When not at Northwestern, Melissa has been a Resident Vocal Consultant for LYRIC UNLIMITED (a division of the Lyric Opera of Chicago), and teaches for the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University. She has been guest faculty for Broadway Evolved, Artsbridge, Broadway Breakthru, IHSTA, ArtsLink and NATS. She has also taught countless masterclasses around the world. Highlights include: co-teaching a live-streamed, sold out masterclass with world renowned opera legend Renee Fleming and recent talks at schools and conferences in  San Diego, San Francisco, New York City, Ithaca, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Madison, South Bend, Goshen, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Birmingham, Palo Alto, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Foster has consulted for the companies of numerous National Tours, including Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof, and A Bronx Tale, and has recently enjoyed consulting for pop/rock projects like working with the NPR Tiny Desk series and for the multi-Grammy winning band Coldplay. Her book, “Don’t Sweat the Technique; A Performers Guide to Hip-Hop and Rap” (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) was released in November 2023. Foster currently lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband Matt Boresi, their daughter Vivian, and their 2 adorable bunnies, Cinna and Rue.

Kara Lindsay / Acting

Broadway: Wicked (Glinda), Beautiful (Cynthia Weil), Newsies (Katherine Plumber) Original Cast/ Fathom Events Film. NYCity Center: Once Upon a Mattress (Winnifred Standby for Sutton Foster). National Tour: Wicked (Glinda), Little House on the Prairie (originated Laura). Paper Mill Playhouse: Newsies, Jolly Holiday, Little House…Prairie. Sacramento Music Circus: Singin in the Rain (Kathy Selden). NCT: Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins).Kansas City Starlight: Cinderella (Cinderella). Kansas City Rep: Cabaret (Sally Bowles). 5th Avenue: Lone Star Love (Miss Ann Page). Geva: A Christmas Carol(Belle). TV: Murphy Brown”ABC’s “Schoolhouse Rock! 50th Anniversary Singalong”ABC’s “The Disney Family Singalong: Volume II”, Tony Awards, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. BFA Carnegie Mellon University. Huge thanks and LOVE to my friends, family, Stewart Talent/ Industry Entertainment. @karalindsay1

Brittainy Barattia / Casting

Brittainy joined the Gray Talent Group as an Associate Agent in July of 2015. She now heads up the Chicago tv/film/commercial/VO departments.  After earning degrees in Theatre Arts and Psychology from the University of Iowa, she began her career in theatre, working in the fields of fundraising and production and stage management. In tandem with her work in the field of performing arts, Brittainy worked in the aviation industry, during which time she learned that there truly is no place like sweet home Chicago. Brittainy is delighted to be part of the performing arts community and is thrilled to help showcase the amazing talents of the actors at Gray Talent Group.

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