News

Bedford mother instructing kids in performance, art in her own way

Friday, February 24, 2012

Story by TERESA SANTOSKI, Staff Writer

Photos by GRANT MORRIS, Staff Photographer

Creativity is not dependent on age, which poses a challenge for parents with children who are interested in music, dance or art but are too young, too shy or simply prefer not to be involved in a traditional competitive arts program.

Jennifer Coletti, of Bedford, aims to fill this gap with Sunshine Generation and The Refrigerator Door, which give children and teenagers the opportunity to explore their creativity in music, dance and the visual arts.

Sunshine Generation is a nonaudition children’s performance group that welcomes 3-year-olds through teenagers. Other options, like “Mommy and Me” classes, are available for younger performers. In addition to singing and dancing, participants learn showmanship skills, such as stage etiquette and how to talk to the audience, and build self-confidence.

The group stages two big performances each year, one in May and one in December, on the Bedford Town Hall stage, along with numerous smaller performances throughout the community. In the past, they’ve performed in the town’s Memorial Day parade, at fairs at Joppa Hill Farm and at the Mall of New Hampshire.

Classes meet once a week for an hour, and participation in the performances is optional. “We don’t want to push anyone to do anything they’re not ready to do,” Coletti said.

The smaller performances, she noted, help build kids’ confidence so that they’re more comfortable onstage when it comes time for the big shows. In the two years or so that she’s been running the program, she’s never had anyone choose not to participate in the big shows.

While building confidence is key, Coletti is equally concerned with teaching professional courtesy and respect for the talents and abilities of others. “When someone comes up to the microphone next to you and they do a good job, you say, ‘Good job,’” she said.

Children aren’t required to come up to the microphone and sing on their own or have a solo speaking part in a performance, but Coletti makes sure that everyone who wants to has that opportunity. Because Sunshine Generation is a noncompetitive, nonaudition group, she determines roles by picking names out of a hat.

“I don’t want that competitive spirit in there – ‘I’m a better singer than you, so I got this and you didn’t.’ Everyone who wants a part gets a part,” she said. “Our program is more about having fun and being comfortable getting up in front of people. We have that everyone-can-do-it attitude.”

Some of her students have gone on to become involved with more competitive programs that require auditions, and some students participate in such programs in addition to Sunshine Generation. For Coletti herself, the skills and confidence she gained as a child performing in Sunshine Generation encouraged her to audition for community theater productions.

The Bedford chapter of this Utah-based performing arts organization previously was run by Coletti’s mother and took a 10-year hiatus after Coletti’s graduation from high school. “Now, I have kids of my own, and that’s why I brought it back,” she said. “There was nothing else like it.”

As a mother, Coletti found Sunshine Generation’s program content particularly appealing. All material is age-appropriate and selected with young performers in mind rather than being watered-down versions of adult material. Songs run the gamut from rock and pop to country and Broadway, including “the old standards that kids don’t get taught anymore,” she said.

Coletti recently introduced “Yankee Doodle” to her classes, only to discover that her students were hearing the song for the first time. “I feel almost like I’m old-school,” she said with a laugh.

Her students are also learning “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Magic to Do” from the musical “Pippin,” all with choreography. “A lot of our dance is derived from jazz and theater dancing,” she said. “We pull from a lot of things, and it’s a good variety.”

Now that Coletti has moved into her own studio space at 7 Chestnut Drive, she’s eager to expand her offerings. These will include The Refrigerator Door, which will provide art instruction for children in the same way Sunshine Generation provides instruction in music and dance.

Coletti has a degree in art education and aims to teach art from the materials at hand rather than from prepackaged kits. “It’s ‘Let’s use some different materials and make something from your head, and put it up on the wall and talk about it,’” she said of her approach to teaching. “That’s what childhood should be about – making something out of your head and putting it on the refrigerator door.”

Realizing her dreams of a children’s performance group and art studio would not have been possible without support from her family and members of the community, Coletti’s mother and sister have both stepped in to help from time to time, and students’ mothers regularly assist with performances. Tom Lianza, president of Bedford Off Broadway, also has been instrumental in coordinating their shows at Bedford Town Hall, Coletti said.

Coletti is overflowing with gratitude and enthusiasm for her creative businesses and the impact that they enable her to have on young lives. “I’m lucky that I’m bringing something to children. I feel good about what I’m doing for the community,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. Life is wonderful. I’m getting to do what I love.”

Teresa Santoski can be reached at 594-6466 or tsantoski@nashuatelegraph.com.

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