Community

Spotlight on the Small Ones: Zneefrock Productions

Jonathan Fong


In one of my earlier articles on this blog, I praised the smaller, less-known side of theatre—community theatre, amateur dramatics, high school theatre, etc — and how much they truly bring to the theatrical community as a whole. In line with that, I figured I’d start a little series of articles to do just that—put a spotlight onto the lesser-known theatre companies, organizations and people who make theatre what it is.

Zneefrock Productions, based in Woodmere, New York, is a youth theatre company that embodies everything that youth and the next generation bring to theatre. Founded by (then-12 year old) Andrew Feldman in 2014 (yes, the Andrew Feldman that’s currently starring in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), it has grown from a simple Bar Mitzvah project of a cabaret of showtunes to an established company who’ve performed everything from fully-fledged licensed productions of big musicals like Seussical and Be More Chill to concert performances akin to their first and even original musicals. And it’s run by teenagers.

They have a mission. The company raises money for, among other organizations, NEXT for AUTISM, an organization supporting people with autism across America in societies and communities; Feldman, who has a cousin with autism, explains in an interview on Odyssey that donating to them was “the obvious choice”. Run by teens at the forefront of the social movements of today, the company draws attention to the social dynamics of modern society in their productions. Their aforementioned production of Seussical, in Feldman’s own words, was a “re-imagining…more stripped-down and socially conscious”, while their novel production of The Last Five Years featured a rotating cast with differing gender pairings, with some performances done traditionally and others with one or both of the two main characters of Jamie and Cathy gender-swapped to explore the differences in gender dynamics caused by the flipping of gender roles and expectations on their head, even if within the confines of the same story.

They don’t mess around either. Their first original musical, a Star Wars parody named SW: A New(sical) Hope written by Feldman and Adrian Dickson, is a full hour and forty minutes long with an intermission to boot (an official recording of the full show can be found on YouTube). They’ve professionally recorded cast albums for their shows—their cast recording for A New(sical) Hope can be found on Soundcloud. And as a non-profit theatre company, they’ve raised over $21,000 US in support of autism-supporting organizations; their very first cabaret raised a thousand dollars for the cause, while more recently their production of Seussical raised $5000 and their production of Be More Chill, staged right before the show’s current Broadway run, raised a full $9000.

The point is—Zneefrock is what theatre should be. Not flashiness or money—they, driven not by money nor visual spectacle but by the society and social movements of today, demonstrate the power of youth. Not just within the theatre, but of theatre itself, in helping those among us in need and putting a spotlight on the chasms and gaps in modern society which need addressing. And with members of their company going on to achieve great things already out there in the world of professional theatre, there’s no doubt that they’re a force to be reckoned with, no matter how small they may appear to be.

All Things Broadway: Birth and Beyond

Eliyahu Kheel

A Facebook group. That’s all...right?

This is one of the most common things I hear when I speak to people about All Things Broadway. “Nothing can come of this group!” “Find an actual career” “Get off of Facebook and get into the real world.”

I remember all these quotes and more coming up constantly in conversations. Especially in the early years of ATB. Is it just a Facebook group? I believed it could be more; and with a little persistence, magic happened.

THE CREATION

 In late September 2014, I was living in Baltimore, MD. A sixteen-year-old theatre geek with few friends living in a community with more synagogues than theaters. I didn’t have much of an outlet for my passion besides bootlegs and a few Facebook groups I’d seen for fans of Phantom of the Opera, and Les Mis (which I co-admin). But these groups were for specific shows or topics or just didn’t have the energy and inclusivity that I was looking for. But I didn’t know what to do! I was just a sixteen-year-old! What could I do? Post to my timeline dozens of times a day every single article and video I could find? Yes. That seems like the smart choice. That won’t annoy anyone! Boy was I wrong.

 All my friends who weren’t theatre fans (yes those exist) didn’t like their news feeds being flooded. “Take it to a page or a group!” was all I heard. Who knew that those words would be some of the best advice I’ve gotten?

 One of my best friends of the time was Alyssa Peltanovich. We met while I was playing Uncle Fester in The Addams Family at New England Theatreworks. I messaged her on Facebook one day to talk to her about the idea of creating a group for all theatre nerds. Alyssa was really excited about the idea and even asked to join on as a co-admin. Thus, All Things Broadway was born.

 

“It’s just so crazy that something we started while I was bored in homeroom has become this huge outlet for people of all walks of life and skill level to connect with one another. It’s so exciting to see how much the group has grown and what’s you’ve been able to accomplish as a collective! Proud as heck!”

-Alyssa Peltanovich, Member since September 26th, 2014



GROWTH

65,000 members and growing daily. This is something I never thought I’d be able to say. When I created All Things Broadway, I didn’t think the group would ever pass even a hundred members! And for a long time, it didn’t. I’d be lying if I said this group was a success overnight. I shared the group everywhere! Into every group I could find, I added every theatre fan I could find, but it just wasn’t taking off. I still recall some of the first posts made to the group. (I believe the very first one was an article about Emma Thompson’s performance in Sweeney Todd on Live from Lincoln Center) Nobody would interact with the posts and I was the only one posting.

I wish I could tell you there was some magical formula that made the group take off. Two spoonfuls of sugar help the theatre group begin? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. It just happened! Slowly, members of the group began speaking up. They realized that this was a place where they could show their love without being judged.

 “ATB means a lot to me. I have found a place where I can talk to others about theatre and everyone understands what I’m talking about. I also find it nice to be able to see what others involved in theatre are doing at their local community theatre”

-Jessica Ferguson, Member since January 2017

 

 “All things Broadway means community. I live in small town where theatre doesn’t exist out of the high school. All things Broadway has allowed me to meet people with similar interests and grow in my knowledge and make me feel like I’m not alone. Before it I thought I was a weirdo I had no idea just how many people lived and breathed theatre and connecting with everyone gave me the confidence to peruse it as a career!”

-Chloe Bowser, Member since September 2018

 I knew very early on that I had something special. I kept making incredible friends through the group. I was learning more about theatre every day and my love just kept growing. Clearly, I wasn’t alone. People started adding their friends, conversations picked up, there were posts happening every day, and most importantly, people were becoming friends over their shared love of Broadway. People from all around the world were coming together. People who normally would never meet, would never get to share their love of theatre, would never learn about what’s happening in the world of Broadway! Suddenly, it was like one large family was forming!

 “ATB has been an amazing refuge for me. I joined after one of the worst months of my life. Since then I have made friends literally all over the globe. I used to be the “weird theatre kid” who’s friends could never under understand why I wanted to spend my days listening to showtunes and dreaming up casts for my favorite shows. ATB has given me an amazing community that I am so grateful for! Plus they have been so supportive whether it was planning a trip to NYC or getting cast in a dream role here in Israel, ATB has been there and supported me through all of it.”
-Emme Suzanne, Member since January 2015

 

“All things Broadway means family. Not the one given to you by blood, but the one you build through love and connection. It’s a place where you can show your love with something and everyone around you loves it as well. All things Broadway is not only a love for theatre but a group that loves the people in who support it”

-Nicholas Hambruch, Member since June 2017

 

“All Things Broadway means that I always know I can come to safe and such a caring group of people who also all love Broadway. I’m happy to know that this group/community of people are always amazing & caring for each other in some way.”

-Kelsea Bingham, Member since March 2017

 

All Things Broadway soon also became a go to place for news in the theatre community. Everything from your local high school’s production of Pippin to the casting of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake (Rachel Zegler who was an incredibly active member of the group! Often live streaming to the group to sing her heart out!) could be found in the group. To this day, we average around 200,000 interactions every month on every theatre subject you could imagine!

 

“Eliyahu Kheel created a place where you can ask a question about anything about broadway.  You will get an answer immediately.  The best thing about it is, it’s for everyone regardless of age or gender. Just for the love of Broadway.”

-Denise Padyk, Member since October 2016

 

“All things broadway is a diverse group that you log on to, to learn about a new show, or rediscover an old classic. You can share your opinions and have meaningful discussions, sometimes with actual industry workers.”

-Daveed Avraham Ben-Arie, Member since January 2015

 "ATB is a place where I get my fix of everything theatre from gossip to support to gushing about great performances to "heated discussions" about the ethical and economic implications of bootlegs and art vs commerce. It's a place where I have the opportunity to connect with younger theatre fans and impart knowledge where I can, to inspire a new generation of theatre lovers!"

-Paul Rigano, Member since June 2017

 BALANCING FACEBOOK AND CAREER

 As the group continued to flourish, I began asking myself “What next?” At the time, I was attending college for musical theatre. And I was often warned about the dangers of social media in this business. Especially on a platform this large. I was of course worried about my career! Shortly after I left the school, I was studying under a famous theatrical superstar who will go unnamed for their privacy. He kept telling me that this group would never lead anywhere! No Broadway stars ran a fan group for theatre! I should pass the reigns on to someone else.

“All Things Broadway is a unique space that brings together lovers of theatre from around the world. From professional actors in the heart of New York, to fans of the stage that keep their original cast recordings on constant repeat, ATB unites us for discussion and discovery through the common passion and adoration of the theatrical craft.”

-Christopher Prasse, Member since January 2016

 For a while, I almost listened to him! I tossed around the idea of stepping down for months! Even after I stopped working with this teacher. Months of thinking on one topic can really put things into perspective. It made me wonder why there wasn’t somewhere for the professionals to geek out! We all start as young theatre nerds not sure of our place. Just because we do it for a career doesn’t mean we stop being that dorky little kid in their low budget middle school production of Seussical! I wanted to be part of this group forever; and with the career I was headed towards, it might be difficult. I knew then and there that I needed to open up the group further to feel like an inclusive space for Broadway professionals as well!

 Being someone trying to break into the theatre industry myself, I already had many friends working on Broadway who knew about All Things Broadway. I began reaching out to them on how I could make ATB a place where they would feel comfortable. After a lot of talking and implementing ideas, I started inviting my Broadway friends to join! Very soon, there were Tony award winners sharing their shows to the group! Seasoned Broadway veterans sharing advice with beginner actors! Tony award winners were joining the group out of nowhere!

 I’ll share two stories that come to mind whenever I think about this topic.

 The first one happened at about two o’clock in the morning a little over a year ago. I was just getting ready for bed when I got one final notification. I almost dropped my phone when I saw the words “Faith Prince has requested to join All Things Broadway”. I of course approved her request and messaged her immediately to thank her for being part of the group.

 One of the most memorable connections that I’ve made through the group was with Donna McKechnie. Donna is best known for her Tony winning performance in the original cast of A Chorus Line. Donna was one of the first Broadway actors to join the group. I am still absolutely shocked to have her as a member.

 One day, I was at Feinstein’s 54 Below seeing John Owen Jones in concert. John and Donna had recently performed in Wild Party together. So Donna came to introduce John and perform a few songs.

 After the show, I went up to Donna to introduce myself. As I was nearing her, she looks up and says (paraphrasing) “Oh my God you’re the guy from All Things Broadway!” My jaw dropped. We started talking and I found out that she doesn’t usually post or comment in the group. But she often sees posts from the group and really enjoys seeing all the love that we have!

 

 FACEBOOK COMMUNITIES SUMMIT

 Recently, I had the experience of a lifetime. Facebook itself had interviewed thousands of community leaders around the world to take part of a community summit at their headquarters in Menlow Park, California.

 Just to be interviewed at all was insane! I was shocked that Facebook itself had noticed ATB and respected the group enough to consider us! Never in a million years did I think we would be chosen!

 Keira Todd (Moderator) and I, along with about 400 other people, were flown out to California, housed at a five-star hotel, and fed fancy and expensive meals for three days as Facebook workers and Mark Zuckerberg himself gushed about all that these groups had done! I was shocked. Looking around, I saw people who saved lives through their groups! I was shocked that I was part of this summit!

 During these three days, we got to meet so many incredible people. We received first looks at new products coming to Facebook groups to make them better, personal tech support from the people who made these products, workshops and panels on how to continue your group’s outreach and make it even greater! All in one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in. Facebook truly does appreciate what All Things Broadway does! I couldn’t be more thankful for this unbelievable opportunity!


THE THEATRE COMPANY

 The story of how All Things Broadway became a theatre company starts far back.

 In September 2017, I was cast as Jean Valjean in a teen production of Les Miserables in NYC. This was a dream come true. Jean Valjean is arguably one of the most iconic roles in all of musical theatre. However, there was a slight issue. I was nineteen years old at the time. Legally, I was too old for the role. The theatre company (which will go unnamed for privacy reasons) decided to brush it under the rug and still cast me. Unfortunately, word got out. On my birthday, several weeks into rehearsals, I received a phone call from the producer. MTI had contacted them, and they were given the ultimatum to either forfeit rights to the show or let me go. I recall how empty I suddenly felt. I didn’t know where to go with my career, I almost gave up theatre! I knew that if I wanted to continue theatre, I had to find something quick. It was that moment that I realized, I had upwards of 40,000 people right here! Many who were unbelievably talented and would love the chance to perform!

 I immediately began searching for ideas and venues. A cabaret. Perhaps just in a studio in Ripley Grier? Maybe some tiny theatre in Brooklyn? I knew nothing about producing at the time! So, I reached out to my friend Pablo Rossil of Raw Sill Productions. He was an active member of ATB and was more than thrilled to help by connecting us to FEINSTEIN’S 54 BELOW! Three months, two hundred auditions, and three Broadway stars (Including host Ben Cameron) later, we found ourselves on the 54 Below stage performing to a full house!

 From there, things just took off! We received a sponsored booth at BroadwayCon to advertise and sell our merchandise! We produced another cabaret at the Laurie Beechman Theatre! We produced a full length musical (Carner and Gregor’s Island Song) at the Off-Broadway Davenport Theater to sold out houses! We formed an LLC and got the name “All Things Broadway” copyrighted! I couldn’t have been happier. Or...couldn’t be happier. That’s where we are now!


Photo from All Things Broadway’s production of “ Island Song”

Photo from All Things Broadway’s production of “Island Song”

 

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

All Things Broadway LLC ©. Wow. It truly makes you wonder how we got here. It’s sometimes very easy to forget exactly what helped bring you success. That’s part of the reason I made this blog post the way I did.

 Before I sat down to write this blog, I reached out to the group for some quotes about their experience in All Things Broadway. In less than a day, I received nearly a hundred quotes! (I of course couldn’t include them all or this article would’ve been even longer than it already is.) I did this because YOU are the reason this group has been a success. Every single member. Every single person who ever has been a member. Every person who gave me a quote, every person who didn’t give me a quote, every admin/moderator that has ever helped out, you are all the reason this group has become what it has. Even the people who have hated on the group and caused me hours and days of stress. Every single thing that has been said in the group or privately to me has affected how this group has progressed. I could’ve done everything the same way; but if not for the incredible members I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with, All Things Broadway never would have passed that initial hundred members.

 All Things Broadway will continue to grow. We are a company now. We’re going to continue producing shows in NYC and NJ! We’re going to continue making connections with the Broadway community! We’ll continue to evolve like any family does. But one thing that will never change is why this group exists.

 I said at the beginning of this blog that there was no secret formula for making a group succeed. I realize now that’s not true. The secret formula is the members. Believe in them, and they’ll believe in the group.

 “To me All Things Broadway means that I always know I can come to safe and such a caring group of people who also all love broadway. I’m happy to know that this group/community of people are always amazing & caring for each other in some way.”

-Kelsea Bingham, Member since March 2017

 “For those of us who grow up in the theater world, we have this wonderful community of like-minded thespians to share ideas with, seek advice from, explore different characters with, and generally share life with. For some theater lovers, they don't have that physical community, so ATB is a place where they can find that encouragement to continue loving theater and continue to enrich their craft. And who knows? One day you could find yourself performing in a show with someone who you once only knew from ATB!"

-Gabriel Ricker, Member since September 2014

 

ATB has given me the opportunity to stay connected with the Broadway scene, to learn and to teach, and to create my favorite mythical character, the Grumpy Olde Guy.
  -Michael Kape, Member since September 2016

 

“All Things Broadway is a place where the theatre nerd in me can be released. It is a space where I can have intelligent conversations about various topics involving theatre, and don't have to worry about people making fun of me and my extensive knowledge. This group also brought me into the blog group chat, which is an entire thing in and of itself that I don't have time to get to now. I am very glad I am a member of ATB and have been for so long, and I look forward to seeing what the future brings the group!”

-Erica Jurus, Member since September 2014

 

“I love you all. Thank you.”

-Eliyahu Kheel, Member since September 26th, 2014