Not a month went by in 2014 without an article or listing featuring a big pink M in it somewhere. Bay Ridge Brooklyn’s preeminent arts training ground, The M Center, opens the doors to the performing arts for people of all ages and walks of life.
Much has been said about M Center playwright, Mohammed Saad Ali, and his recent notoriety as one of the voices of the new immigrant experience in America with successful runs of the award-winning Old Men Are Full of S**t at the Midtown International Theater Festival and Canaan at the Manhattan Rep. But also Asian actress (and M acting and singing program member) Emmy Pai returned to the professional theatre in another production fostered at the M Center. Pull the Trigger, written by M playwright Christopher Sirota featured Ms. Pai. This enigmatic tale was reminiscent of early Samuel Beckett. Sirota’s comedy, Stalled, will received a run at producer John Chatterton’s Midwinter Festival along with Mr. Ali’s play Canaan. And the list goes on.
Emmy is not the only artist of a certain age who reaped the rewards of the M Center. Retired city worker-turned-playwright, Ted Montuori, had his play, Curtains, enjoy a run at Roy Arias theaters in the Spring; Brooklyn local, Joel Charles also studied for two season at the M; and musician Robert Cricket Cohen played bass guitar with M Center’s MBand for a short time. “From the first time I became part of the many activities at the M Center it was a happy day for me! My participation playing bass for the M Center’s show “Voices” in the heart of NYC’s theater district was an honor and a pleasure. My goals are in both learning and teaching and the M Center satisfies my artistic passions full to the brim!” exclaimed the musician who toured the world with numerous bands including opening for the Drifters, and has a decades-long career working in the cutting-edge theatre of the 60s and 70s with some of the industry’s most recognized names including Manhattan Theatre Club, LaMama, and the legendary Ridiculous Theatre Company.
On the other end of the spectrum, what started as a small program on Sunday afternoons has blossomed into the MKIDS. A full section devoted to working with pre- and early teens who display great potential in the arts.
The programs created two “stars” so far: Alinna Gonzalez and Martin Richards.
Wendy Richards, Martin’s mother, had this to say about her son’s progress at the little place with big ideas: “Martin’s singing and acting ability, and his confidence level, have drastically improved since attending the M Center. Your place prepared him for performing arts schools auditions: he would not have had as much confidence if he did not have training.” Martin also got the opportunity to serve as a production assistant on Voices 2014, an annual concert initially hosted by the M Center’s sponsor, Genesis Repertory. “Your show allowed the people involved to be part of a professionally run production. Most need to work at primary jobs and are only able to enjoy their performing arts passion on a secondary basis in lessons and sometimes on weekends: your show allowed them to perform on a stage in the city and validated their real skills” Wendy continued. “I am very happy our family was introduced to your organization, and hope to continue our lessons indefinitely.” When Wendy says family, she is not speaking in a general sense, her husband, David Richard, so impressed with his son’s progress and energy, enrolled in voice classes as well. Dave, a former stand-up comic and song writer in California, has taken this opportunity – and the M – to get back into the industry. “I’ve always wanted to try Shakespeare” Dave said upon learning of the studio’s Macbeth workshop.
Joining Martin as an MKid is Alinna Gonzalez. Alinna, a member of the Sunday afternoon program, displayed a great deal of artistic potential for one so young. Mary E. Micari, the M’s founder and program manager, decided Alinna should join the Voices concert on stage. Alinna stopped the show.
Alinna’s mother, Rhonda Abdinoor-Gonzalez, commented that Alinna is a different person when she’s at the M; looking at the studio as her second home. From breath control to vocal power, Rhonda has seen a great change in her nine-year-old daughter – and in herself. “You are really genuine. You do this because you love it. I have a new respect and understanding for the arts and the passion of artists” replied Rhonda; “and you’re right here in Bay Ridge!” she concluded.
As with the Richards family, Rhonda’s son, Andrew, is now a member of the M. He studies guitar and has aspirations of joining the MBand.
The concept of giving the next generation a leg-up has always been in the forefront of M Center Founder, Mary Elizabeth Micari’s plans. Micari and producer Jay Michaels moved Genesis Repertory, the nonprofit arts & education organization that sponsors the M, to Brooklyn and began presenting classical works. Her first production in Brooklyn was Romeo & Juliet. There she gave 16-year-old Nelson Anthony the part of Romeo; a decision that send shock waves and dubious thoughts through the community. After standing ovations and rave reviews, community opinion changed quickly. Today, Nelson is a graduate of the High School of Performing Arts looking to a future on stage. Micari followed that with a SteamPunk production of Hamlet that eventually was the foundation of a new film.
The M Center will be stepping up all programs for 2015, creating even more opportunities to learn and grow in the arts. There is a second Voices Concert coming in May; entitled SHOWTUNE, this one will focus on learning and performing in the American Musical Theater. There will be a director’s class added to the burgeoning performance program that already includes acting and playwriting. And a special Shakespeare workshop is in the ready and will focus on Macbeth.
All programs are designed for all ages… well, maybe not Macbeth.