Healy Sammis and Kyle Wrentz were in elementary school when they met at Crystal Theatre, a performing arts school in Norwalk, Conn. They remained active with the program and stayed friends through their high-school years. Somewhere along the way a dream was born: running a theater program of their own.
Dreams come true as a matter of routine in show biz, but they also can come true in real life. Sammis and Wrentz launched Break a Leg Theater Works in Plymouth in 2015. Since then, nearly 400 children have taken part.
“We just did our holiday show, a holiday cabaret, and many of our alumni came back to perform,” said Wrentz. “They’re at very, very esteemed universities. Some of them are doing things in the performing arts, others are in biology and education, and it’s just amazing that the music is the thing that bonds them. This is a place where they felt seen and validated and treated as young individuals who had a viewpoint that was worthy of exploring.”
Break a Leg offers musical theater workshops for teens and younger children, as well as one-day master classes taught by New York and Boston professionals. In January they began to offer classes for first- to third-graders and pre-K to kindergarten children. They rent rehearsal and performing space from schools, the Spire Center for Performing Arts in Plymouth and other organizations.
“Some of the musicals were divided up into specific age groups, but a lot of the cabarets that we do combine the ages,” said Sammis. “That’s been a model that’s been very successful for us because we’ve had younger kids come in and they’re just in awe of the high schoolers. The high schoolers just adore the younger kids and so, right away, they elevate the younger kids’ performances because they want to mimic the professionalism of the high schoolers. It’s been a really supportive system.”
No previous experience is required or expected.
“We say, ‘Come as you are and we’ll meet you where you’re at,’” said Wrentz. “Some kids aspire for a career in the performing arts, whether it be on stage, TV or film. Then there are other kids for whom this is a great place to grow and gain confidence just when they’re navigating through the world. And for another kid, it’s a social place where they come and they’re able to hang out with their friends. They drop their electronics and, for a minute, they’re creating art.
“I love that it’s a mix of kids who have a different viewpoint on how they want theater and the performing arts in their lives, but, yet, all those ages and all the perspectives come together.”
Sammis and Wrentz both studied theater in college. He graduated from the Hartt School of Music and went on to perform at Hong Kong Disneyland and in “The Lion King” on Broadway. She graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts and worked as a special-ed teacher, helping students with reading difficulties, doing some theater on the side.
But whenever they reconnected, they always talked about opening a theater, she said.
In 2015, Sammis, who was living in Marshfield, asked Wrentz to travel from New York City to help introduce some children to musical theater.
“We had a couple of Kyle’s friends who were Broadway artists come to perform with students who were interested,” she said. “We had a cast of about 26 total, of kids of various ages who sang solos and duets and small group numbers and then sang with the Broadway artists. That was the first show we had. And since then, it just grew into an entity of its own.”
Eventually, Wrentz moved to Massachusetts and Break a Leg became their full-time work.
Wrentz and Sammis see plenty of room for growth in the years ahead.
“We want to be a community-based organization that entertains everyone and offers classes for any student who’s interested, whether it be on stage or the technical aspects off stage or off,” he said. “We want to be a place that enlightens and informs by bringing people of all different perspectives together. We want to show, through our work, how you can have cohesion and harmony, even though we have a lot of differences.”
Sammis looks forward to the day when the organization has its own permanent space.
“We have a big vision of having our own headquarters,” she said. “While we want to extend elsewhere and start having alumni-run camps in other towns, we also need our own theater, our own rehearsal space and our own class space.”
“When we started this, it was about the love of theater and sharing our love of theater,” said Wrentz. “The thing that I quickly realized and what’s really stayed with me was the impact it was having on the students’ overall lives. We have students who come in and they may be shy or they may have some doubts. Then you fast forward a couple of years, and there’s so many breakthroughs that happen in the theater work that then they don’t even realize they’re applying to their lives.
“It’s been a gift to see that happen. I hope the community will continue to support us so that we get more kids in the door,” he continued. “It’s not about them all being Broadway stars. It’s just about them growing a little bit and walking out the door a little bit taller than when they walked in.”