Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 33
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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All in a Day’s Work

(Photo by Ellen Gilbert
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST: “The creation of art — fine and performing — is a personal experience that transforms the individual, and opens the door, if briefly, to what is shared by all human beings. It is awesome to see how differently that essential core is expressed, based on a myriad of influences that are cultural, historical, and personal, and I do believe that through the act of creating, sharing, and the act of viewing other people’s creations, we can find ways to connect to each other and celebrate the diverse expressions of our joint humanity.”

Princeton Regional Schools Performing Arts Center (PRSPAC) Manager Cory Ann Alperstein is a master juggler. Since 2006, when she took the job (she actually created it; it had never existed before), her days have consisted of working with administrators, teachers, students, parents, arts organizations, performing artists, technicians, local non-profits, and government agencies in her crusade to expand opportunities for arts enrichment through the use of the PRSPAC facilities. Her previous jobs, as an Education Consultant to the Historical Society of Princeton, and manager of Education and Outreach at Princeton University’s Cotsen Children’s Library, were also characterized by high-energy multi-tasking as she identified and collaborated with a multiplicity of individuals and agencies to create innovative programs. Ms. Alperstein is also the passionately engaged mother of two teen-age girls.

—Ellen Gilbert

The thread that links a lot of what I do, as an arts educator and an arts education activist, often has to do with breaking down barriers socially by sharing cultures and providing intimate glimpses into the world of the other; with reaching out to people to reach out to other people to make a better world for all of us. If we “teach our children well,” they will have an understanding of this powerful innate ability to create that will carry them through their lifetime as individuals and citizens of the world. They won’t be afraid of personal expression, and they will know how to celebrate diversity.

In a way, through the Internet, Garage Band, iMovie, and YouTube, this is happening more and more in informal ways. Without the gallery or the live theater venue, people are finding a doorway to create and share with an audience — now a world audience, and that is very exciting. I think it is our mission to cultivate that desire to express, that talent to create, whether it is through community efforts, or connected to the world stage. Our need to express and our desire to share must be championed as we continue to seek solutions to both the world’s great problems, and I include prejudice as the major challenge here, as well as the deeply felt challenges in our personal lives.

My current position is all-encompassing. I have to make sure the performing arts center runs smoothly and that it is available to the high school’s Performing Arts Department and the District, while also doing community outreach. Marketing and promotion are important, and there is the revenue component; we are funded by the district, but we need additional money from other sources. Our fee schedule is modest compared to other similar facilities in the area.

This job did not exist before. Because of who I am, I approached Human Resources Assistant Superintendent Lew Goldstein and created a position involved with management, scheduling, preparing contracts, and coordinating with teachers and schools. By the end of the first year it was clear that more positions — like set designers and costume-makers — were needed.

One of the biggest struggles is the budget. There is very little that you can do alone in the performing arts; you always need a second person for technical jobs. We had to cut back this year. There had been two half-time technical people and that was already “bare bones.” Now we’ve lost one of those positions. We need a Friends group. We try to use staff for District activities as well as outside user events, and we’ve supplemented that by training a student tech crew, who earn community service credit for working on District events, and are paid for outside user events. This is a great opportunity for students — they learn a lot by working on the fall play and spring musical. One of the students went straight into audio engineering when he graduated; the experience they get here really awakens their interest and prepares them to go further.

The first three years have been a lot about figuring out how we want to do things. In the next three years I’d like to extend after-school programming, like bringing in the alternative fitness programs we offered this summer for middle- and high school students. I’d like to do more community outreach, including working on something collaborative with Princeton University. We already work with the Recreation Department, the library, the Arts Council, and the Princeton Historical Society.

One of the biggest challenges here is the school’s culture, how to get students to participate when we open doors to something new. There are kids who aren’t being enriched, and they’re missing out on opportunities. I get impassioned — I’m dogged — I want to make things happen. A good way to do it is to get little things to happen, as samples of what could be.

The point is when a teacher or student comes to me and says “I want to do something,” my instinct is, “great.” A student had spent three years asking various people to help him with a film project. We made it happen with an independent film festival. I worked with French teacher Sheila MacRae on an AP midterm for her students that consisted of a dramatic performance of a play by Molière. It was completely different.

My undergraduate thesis at Princeton was about how societal crises are reflected in the arts. People feel as if they are at sea when a crisis occurs. Art gives them an opportunity to express themselves and to be forward-looking. It’s sad that in periods of belt-tightening this tool for coping is removed. That’s not the overall case in this district, though; I think this district really supports the arts.

If I do nothing else I hope to make theater technology part of the curriculum here. It’s a huge field, and you can do so much with it. We have a fantastic construction lab for creating sets. Learning how to interact with a director and using computer technology for lighting and color are just pieces of it.

I would also love to see a dance program introduced. I love modern dance, and was a dancer for 20 years. I believe in the power of dance; you can accomplish so much through it. Think about dance: what is it? What do people bring to it? How do you share it with the community? There’s no modern dance in this town.

I am just one of many people doing some good work to promote the arts. My projects have all been modest, and are just “what ifs” that come out of a desire to partner with others who are interested in making things happen. Some day I will shift to complete my own creative endeavors, and I look forward to that time.

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