Philadelphia has never lacked for insightful theater instructors culled from its working stage ranks.
Thespians, singers and dancers Mindy Doughery Baiada and Dann Dunn just happened to take such skills top open their all-ages Music Theatre Philly school in Center City on South 12th Street. And starting Sunday, Jan. 16, they’ll debut their MTP Presents company with full productions for the world to see in “The Spongebob Musical”and “101 Dalmations: Kids,” both running on Sundays through May 22.
Doughery Baiada (who has busied herself with Broadway roles and choreography gigs in “Gypsy,” “A Chorus Line” and “Sondheim: The Birthday Concert”) and Dunn (likewise with “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer” and “Sesame Street on Broadway”) host courses at MTP instructed by local industry pros. The twosome got Executive Director Tim Popp to front their training ground for young artists in different age groups, in theater and dance.
“Dann and I were in a show together and we’d talk during intermission, waiting to go on stage for the second act,” says Baiada, a Penn State theater graduate. “We actually began brainstorming about creating the sort of training that we hadn’t experienced when we were coming up. When I started out, I didn’t have the training that other kids had — sight reading, voice dance, piano lessons – and had to piecemeal it all. Our dream then, Dann and mine, was to create a company where children could get all of their training under one roof.”
Baiada, a mother of two daughters, also wanted something freer for children, structured but not restrictive. “I wanted a place where my daughters could wear tutus or Superman costumes to dance class if they so desired,” she says. “We started with the songs and dance of the Disney musical ‘Frozen.’ the kids loved the wands and the capes, and they really started to shine.”
Music Theatre Philly’s one-stop-shopping center for young theater practitioners – broken into age categories Pre-K (Ages 3-5), grades K-2, grades K-3, grades 3-6, grades 7-12 – grew so quickly once Dunn and Baiada opened their doors, that they brought in Popp, a Levittown-born educator, to run the place while the co-creators focused on artistic direction and fundraising. “They brought me in to take things to the next level,” says Popp.
Getting and holding attention when it comes to children is crucial. Mentorship is too, and allowing its students to grasp the detailed concepts behind lyrics and scripted stories at their own pace is as huge a part of Music Theatre Philly as is improv or movement classes.
That next level for Music Theatre Philly now includes what Popp calls “truly dynamic programming” in the guise of MTP Presents — a new, “big dream next level” student production for those new to the process and youths who have already had training in the field and on the stage.
Working with professional actors, directors, choreographers, music directors and designers with the goal of staging a fully-produced musical, each student will have the experience of stretching every theater muscle – from auditioning and rehearsing to acting and improvising, and singing and dancing — young actors will actually get the real feel of staged production. All they need is an argument with a producer and a mood swing with their agent and they’re set. “When students come to us, they’re here to learn and brush up on musical theater skills for their tool box,” says Popp. “You don’t need to be a THEATER KID to be here.”
MTP Presents is divided into two companies: The Junior Company for actors in grades K-3 and the Senior Company for actors in grades 4-12. And its ultimate goal is the company’s staged performances of The Spongebob Musical and 101 Dalmations: Kids.
“Dann Dunn was very excited about choosing Spongebob for our students to do because the songs are so hip and contemporary, the energy is up, it’s an ensemble piece so every kids has something to do, and the whole show is so creative,” says Popp. “It will be a great way for children to blow off steam after the last two years of COVID.”
As for 101 Dalmatations, Baiada says the popular Cruella-based musical is a perfectly laid out script for that age group, with identifiable characters and interesting aesthetic opportunities in its staging and costumes. “Everyone loves playing the puppies, and every child who does the show will have a blast.”
More information on Music Theatre Philly, and details on registration, can be found at www.musictheatrephilly.com.