Janet Adderley’s Vision for The Adderley School

Janet Adderley is the founder of The Adderley School, which offers musical theatre workshops for children. It was originally founded in California and has two locations there, but expanded into Austin, Texas, as a nonprofit in 2018. Adderley is a Texas native and saw an opportunity to bring musical theatre and the performing arts to underprivileged and underrepresented communities with the program’s Austin branch. The school has taught thousands of students and alumni can be found everywhere from Broadway to movie screens.

Jack Dylan Grazer and Janet Adderley

Adderley initially founded The Adderley School to help her shy daughter, Alana, come out of her shell. It all began with Adderley and her brother, Marcus, who was growing up as a shy black boy in the Houston area in the 1960s. What brought him out of his shell was the performing arts. So when Adderley saw that same timidness in her daughter, she knew just what to do to help Alana be bolder. And, as she put it, “My desire to help my daughter has certainly paid off.”

Though Adderley has been on Broadway and worked in film and television, she says that none of her experiences there have really helped her become a mentor. Instead, Adderley says that three people outside of her family have had “a humongous impact on how I mentor children.” One of those three people is real: Adderley’s third grade teacher, Miss Hattie Vance, whom she describes as a “pint-sized powerhouse” and a hugely inspirational black woman. The other two are fictional characters, both portrayed by Julie Andrews: British nanny Mary Poppins and singing nun Maria from “The Sound of Music.” The former is an example of a loving disciplinarian, while the latter delves into the “warm, fuzzy side” of mentoring.

But that doesn’t take away from what Adderley did learn from her family. She specifically notes that her grandma expected nothing less than excellence, but also taught her a mindset of “if you dream it, you can accomplish it.” Again, two sides to the same coin: expectations and loving.

At The Adderley School, the students study all disciplines — singing, acting and dancing — but often excel in certain focuses. For example, Adderley alum Jack Dylan Grazer (“It,” “Shazam!”) is a gifted young actor, and that’s really paid off for him. On the other hand, Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) attended the school and is primarily known as a stage actor and singer. But what really counts at The Adderley School are the values that the students are taught through the medium of musical theatre. Adderley herself emphasized that children often learn through mirroring and mimicry, like how Maria taught the Von Trapps “Do Re Mi” in “The Sound of Music.” And so the values of confidence, passion, discipline, joy and more are taught in these workshops.

And it isn’t just the students’ minds that are expanding; it’s the parents’ minds too. Adderley loves to teach the classics and has been surprised at the lack of knowledge of Broadway legends such as Cole Porter. But rather than a hurdle, she and the rest of the staff see that as an opportunity to teach.

When choosing which shows to perform, Adderley keeps in mind just how political art is. Yes, “West Side Story,” “South Pacific” and “The King and I” are all classics. But there’s more to them than that. The Adderley School’s upcoming performance of “West Side Story” is in part a celebration of what would be roughly the 100th birthdays of creators Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins; it is also a timely retelling of a story about feuding factions and immigration.

That’s part of what Adderley credits for the current musical theatre resurgence too. She worked on 1999’s “Annie,” and at the time she told director Rob Marshall that he was “about to bring musicals back into the spotlight.” He went on to direct “Chicago” in 2002, which was the first musical to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards since 1968. More recently, he’s worked with Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt twice: first on 2014’s “Into the Woods” and then on 2018’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” Adderley believes that “musical theatre is timely and political,” just like many forms of art.

Just this year, The Adderley School expanded its reach in Central Texas: They are now offering after-school workshops at Blackshear Elementary, a Title I school. These schools implement school-wide or targeted assistance programs in an attempt to even the playing field for low-income families who don’t have access to the same resources that others do. Adderley is incredibly proud of this new program, and she believes it’s an important part of operating as a nonprofit. She doesn’t think any child’s future should be less bright due to “the lottery of their zip code or who their parents are.” The chance to learn musical theatre skills and the values that come with those lessons are a lifelong gift. Adderley says that the five-year plan is to reach one more Title I school each year for a program like this.

The Adderley School will have performances of “West Side Story” on Friday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m., as well as Saturday, June 1, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jack Dylan Grazer will be in attendance on closing night to present one boy and one girl each with an Adderley Conservatory Scholarship in his own name. You can buy tickets to a show this weekend here.

If you want to learn more about Janet Adderley and The Adderley School, read our interview with her.

Featured image credit: The Adderley School

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