Black Box Studios creates a scene in Bergen County
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Black Box Studios creates a scene in Bergen County

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The drama program at the Moriah School of Englewood includes more than 30 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, shown here with director Matt Okin.

A new kind of theater has come to Bergen County.

On Feb. 9 and 11, the Moriah School of Englewood will host the début of “Noah,” performed by the school’s Black Box Drama Club.

Black Box Studios has also partnered with the Jewish Center of Teaneck to create what director and writer Matt Okin described as “an innovative drama program for children, teens, and adults.”

The Englewood-based Okin, together with stage manager Mandy Decker of Jersey City, are bringing New York City-style theater programs to schools and institutions in New Jersey, including not only Moriah and the JCT but also the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, Temple Emanu-el of Woodcliff Lake, and Yavneh Academy in Paramus. While tailored to each group’s specific needs, said Okin, the educational program generally includes acting, improvisation, musical theater, and even rock songwriting.

Through Black Box Studios – which Okin called “the educational outgrowth of the Black Box Theater in New York City” – students of all ages participate in collaborative theater. The group’s Website, he said, includes custom-designed in-school programs for various ages, ethnicities, and faiths.

Okin teamed up with Decker – who has extensive performing arts experience with children – after they worked together on “Soul Searching,” one of Okin’s shows in New York City. “It was a natural match,” he said.

“I’ve been teaching for different schools in the area for about four and a half years,” Okin said, “but we didn’t truly get started as Black Box until [our partnership with] the Jewish Center of Teaneck, and that’s really taking off now.”

Okin pointed out that the theater program there is part of the synagogue’s larger outreach effort. “Our theater programs are going to be a large part of what the rabbi there, Rabbi [Lawrence S.] Zierler, is building,” he said.

Zierler is clearly pleased with the partnership, calling the Black Box Studio program “a workshop for lifelong abilities that go well beyond an involvement in the theater arts, [helping] people increase confidence and develop poise and presence, to enhance social skills.” He noted also that the synagogue has tried to keep the price of the program as low as possible.

Okin said that his interaction with drama students has given him insight into the communication needs of the corporate world as well.

“I have my version of collaborative theater,” he said. “I can do an acting class for employees about group dynamics. I can teach these skills to anyone from a 6-year-old to a 60-year-old beginner.”

He noted that the project at the Moriah School offers all students a chance to participate in the production process.

“At Moriah, we’re not the normal drama club,” Okin said. “We’re creating a production company at the school. We’re not just there doing a play and creating a bunch of divas.” He stressed that even students who were not interested in singing or acting could garner skills that might prove useful in future professional settings. Among the activities offered are set design, direction, writing, costuming, and company collaboration.

The Moriah School’s “Noah” is a play based on the 1938 Broadway show.

“Ours is a little more innovative and funnier than the original version,” said Okin. “It is about how Noah had to maintain his faith during a time of turmoil in the world throughout the flood, and while he was surrounded by other people who were having more trouble with [the flood] than he was.”

Okin said he presents the Noah story with a twist. “It’s a familiar story – in not such a familiar version. The kids are doing an amazing job and having a great time,” he added.

For more information about the Moriah production and Black Box Studios, visit www.blackboxarts.com.

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