Andrea Green's musicals are for kids, but they're not kids stuff!

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By Jonathan Takiff, Daily News Staff Writer

September 03, 2014

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SOME PEOPLE, like Andrea Green, never fully grow up. Lucky for her - and for the thousands of others (young and young in spirit) who've been touched by Green's work as a Philadelphia-based music therapist and composer of acclaimed, bighearted children's musicals.

Green's organic works aren't just toe-tapping good - chock-full of polished, pop/Broadway-style anthems that get you humming along. These nourishing shows are also good for you - as socially inclusive, thought-provoking and therapeutic as they are entertaining.

One of Green's 14 (!) originals, "The Return of Halley's Comet," has been touring this summer in far away Estonia, and (fingers crossed) may be excerpted in a presentation for President Obama this week, as he's visiting the Baltic country (and region) on his way to a peace-focused NATO summit conference in Wales.

A lot closer to home, Green's firstborn (31 years ago) show performed by and for kids, "On the Other Side of the Fence," will be celebrated tomorrow at 8 p.m. on MiND-TV (Channel 35, a/k/a WYBE) with a newly completed documentary that explores the musical's origins and noble mission: making connections and building bridges between mainstream and special-needs kids.

Keep a box of Kleenex handy as you watch it.

As with "Halley's Comet" and her other, most-oft produced show, "Homeroom the Musical" (which predated Disney's "High School Musical" by a mere 18 years), "Other Side" grapples with issues of alienation, low self-esteem and suspicion of others that almost all kids feel at vulnerable points in their lives.

"I'm still haunted by memories of being a geeky teenager," confessed the 60-years-young Green with a laugh in a recent conversation. "What it felt like going it alone, not feeling accepted but desperately wanting to be."

Yet in the next breath (or in the next snappy, soft-shoe song), you'll likely hear Green celebrating that "being different, standing up for yourself" is a very good thing:

"It's the combination that makes you special, the combination that makes you you/All the little different parts/Mix 'em up and there it starts/The combination that makes you you."

The one and only
When it comes to writing musicals, Green is clearly a breed apart. "Nobody else is presenting original shows like mine at children's theater conferences," she's observed. "Adaptations of fairy tales are usually the norm."

Yawn.

Franka Vakkum, the Estonian director of Generation Musical Theater who translated "Return of Halley's Comet," said she'd literally scoured the world for a multi-generational-appeal show that could grapple, metaphorically and amusingly, with the issues of stereotyping, intolerance and blind suspicion threatening civil war in her country. Issues comically dealt with in this show with the "invasion" of green (suited) "Halliens" who've clearly come in peace.

Amy Lesso, theater program director at Orchard Valley Middle School in Washington Township, N.J., introduced her students to "Homeroom the Musical" last semester.

"We'd done our share of the usual suspects - "Annie," "Once Upon a Mattress" "The Music Man" - which have a few important lead characters and a chorus, and really don't have much to say," Lesso said.

"Homeroom" by contrast, has 16 numbers where the entire cast (anywhere from 14 to 80 performers) is onstage, lending support to whoever's singing the lead.

"So you always feel part of the group," noted Green, letting her therapist side shine.

Performers voice their stresses, in song, over parental divorce, transferring to a new school, attention deficit disorder, classmate bullying, the pressures of grades and sports, unrequited crushes and crises in sexual identity.

The young Orchard Valley performers, polled after a show, called it "really relatable," "my story" and "the best thing I've ever done."

Caught on film
Couched as a tale of animals at adjacent, feuding farms who're both curious and afraid of one another, "On the Other Side of the Fence" was launched in 1983 by Green when she was a newbie music therapist at the University City-based HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy.

And from the other side of the fence came students and teacher Teresa Maebori of Germantown Friends School. She'd been motivated to reach out after hearing a student recklessly refer to another as a "retard."

As captured by documentary filmmaker Henry Nevison, TV viewers will see how difficult - at first - and how rewarding - in the long run - it is to put on this special production, which the two schools have done 10 times over.

The special-needs kids initially seem as distant and alien as Green's Halliens. Until the dividers break down and you see the light, feel the life and good cheer even severe paralysis cannot diminish in these young 'uns.

And in the center of it all, there's Green, running show rehearsals from the piano, never flagging in enthusiasm and encouragement.

What an inspiration.

Casting call
With Maebori's recent retirement, Green is looking for new partner schools to keep tearing down fences. (An adjusted version of the show intended for conventional theater groups is also offered and oft performed through her vaunted show publisher/licensor Samuel French.)

Green's also working, at the moment, on a promising children's entertainment project for TV. And with more than a dozen musicals at the ready, she's contemplating starting her own, Philadelphia-based children's theater company - unless an established troupe wakes up and smells the hot cocoa, realizing there's lot more potential in kids' stagecraft than "Puss 'n Boots" and "The Wizard of Oz."

  • Children's Theater | Creating Safe Musical Spaces: Part II Building Inclusive Communities Through the Arts | Andrea Green Music +

    Creating Safe Musical Spaces: Part II
    Building Inclusive Communities Through the Arts

    Click here to download article PDF here

    In the last issue of PIO! I wrote about neurodiversity and strategies to create safe, inclusive musical experiences for all kinds of students in classrooms, choirs, or performance settings. This column continues the conversation, highlighting the work of two of our members, Frank Hernandez and Andrea Green, who each in their own unique way strive very purposefully to build inclusive communities using music and the arts.

    “Open the Circle” by Frank Hernandez and Ted Warmbrand is a favorite

    Read More
  • Children's Theater | Jewish Community Voice | Andrea Green Music +

    Puerto Rico & Cherry Hill teens collaborate on musical project

    By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

      Students from the Colegio Ponceño Musical Theater group performing “Homeroom the Musical” in Puerto Rico in February.

    Students from the Colegio Ponceño Musical Theater group performing “Homeroom the Musical” in Puerto Rico in February.
    The things that teenagers obsess over could fill a feature-length musical. In any given homeroom, on any given school day, adolescents worry about their looks, upcoming exams, and how their GPA stacks up against others. They fret about fitting in, fashion, friends, frenemies and bullying—both cyber and traditional.

    In other words, “Homeroom the Musical”—a production as noteworthy for its big song-and-dance numbers as its value as a

    Read More
  • Children's Theater | The Cherry Hill Sun | Andrea Green Music +

    Teen actors from Puerto Rico to perform with Cherry Hill West students

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    It all starts with a dream. Then mix in mission, music and passion and it’s a great formula for success! These are the ingredients that quickly came together to make it possible for 30 teen actors from Colegio Ponceño Musical Theater Group in Ponce, Puerto Rico to come to Cherry Hill to perform with students from Cherry Hill High School West in “Homeroom: The Musical” They arrive on June 4 for a five-day whirlwind of a tour, visiting attractions in the Philadelphia region and perform

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  • Children's Theater | Courier Post | Andrea Green Music +

    Cherry Hill producer picks up Emmy

    PHILADELPHIA Composer Andrea Green of Cherry Hill walked away with honors Saturday night when the documentary about her work won an Emmy Award.

    A Mid-Atlantic Emmy was presented to local filmmaker Henry Nevison, whose documentary, "On the Other Side of the Fence," chronicles Green and the children she works with at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy and Germantown Friends School.

    Green, a music therapist, served as associate producer of the documentary.

    The documentary is an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the students' relationships as they rehearse and perform together in the musical

    Read More
  • Children's Theater | WHYY, Voices in the Family | Andrea Green Music +

    Teaching children empathy through the arts

    Empathy is an essential skill to connect with the people and world around you. It is also so much more than even compassion- to be truly empathetic one has to feel how it might be to be in another’s place. So how can we teach this skill, and how can we simplify it enough to teach bit effectively to children? The most effective way to teach it is experientially- and the most fun way is through the arts. On this Voices in the Family, we will speak with people involved in the film “The

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Philadelphia Honors Andrea Green

On May 16, 2013, Andrea Green and Teresa Maebori, were honored by a special resolution by the City of Philadelphia.

"Honoring the inspiring partnership of two Philadelphia women, Andrea Green (music therapist, composer/playwright) and Teresa A. Maebori (teacher), along with the staff and children from the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy and Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, who are celebrating the 30th year of a 'musical' and teaching tolerance project created to break down barriers- building communication, understanding and friendship."


Watch a video of the ceremony!

 

 

On the Other Side of the Fence Wins the Gold Medal from the 2015 NY International Film Festival!

On the Other Side of the Fence Gold Medal Winner

We are pleased to announce that On the Other Side of the Fence took home the gold medal from the 2015 NY International Film Festival and the bronze medal from the United Nations for outstanding achievement in a film that exemplifies the ideals and goals of the United Nations.

Filmed in the spring of 2012, On the Other Side of the Fence is a television documentary and educational media project. It focuses on Andrea's highly acclaimed musical, On the Other Side of the Fence and her work as a music therapist and director.

On the Other Side of the Fence is now distributed by American Public Television and is going to air on over 61 stations in 2015. 

Click here to visit the On the Other Side of the Fence website

 

Andrea's work as composer/playwright and music therapist was honored with a 2015 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award for best documentary!

On the Other Side of the Fence takes home the Emmy