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Inspiring U | May 28, 2024

What's New With U? May 2024

Usdan students watching a theater production in an outdoor theater.

In this month's newsletter, we celebrate the accomplishments of three of our theater students and our former Artist in Residence The Knights. Plus, we reveal our theme for Summer 2024!

Whether you are a student, parent, alum, donor, or fan, we thank you for your ongoing support and hope to see you this summer at Usdan. We have many opportunities to give back to Usdan through volunteering or supporting a student through a gift to our Scholarship campaign. We hope you check them out.

Happy reading!

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This summer at Usdan, we invite you to PLAY!

Our big theme for summer 2024, PLAY inspires us to embrace experimentation and joy above all else. Through play, we believe our students, staff, artists, and entire community can be their most creative selves, free to fail, and free to have fun.

We see this year’s theme as an antidote to today’s heavy world. Our hope is that this theme will touch every area of campus and provide moments of joy throughout the summer. Over the past two summers, Usdan faculty, staff, Artists in Residence, Festival Artists, and students have united the community with innovative responses to the theme, and the leadership staff CANNOT wait to see what everyone comes up with this summer!

Recognizing that play is something that is inherent to what departments like theater and recreation do, we are also offering the option to explore three other “small” themes — GRATITUDE, CONNECTION, and GROWTH.

Through PLAY, GRATITUDE, CONNECTION, and GROWTH, we can unleash our creative superpowers. U-Zam!


Last month, Executive Director Lauren Brandt Schloss and Usdan Theater teacher Rob Gallagher headed to Minskoff Theatre to see Usdan Theater student Nia Thompson star as Young Nala in "The Lion King." Follow along in this photo essay. Photos courtesy of Lauren Brandt Schloss.

Lauren and Rob arrive at the Minskoff Theatre and head to their seats!

Selfie time! Lauren and Rob snap a pic before the show begins.

Can you spot Nia in the cast listing? In May, Nia performed her 100th show. How amazing is that?!

Nia found out she landed her dream role last December on her 12th birthday. See her reaction when she heard the big news in this video.

After the show, Lauren, Rob, Nia, and Nia's aunt gathered for dinner before Nia's evening performance.

One last Nala roar before Nia goes to the theater for her evening call!

Show your Usdan pride! Follow Nia on Instagram to find out when you can see her in "The Lion King" this summer!


This month, not one but two of Usdan's Musical Theater students were named finalists in local voice and theater awards. Bravo William and Sean!

William Herbert 
Usdan Troupe student William Herbert was named a finalist in the prestigious Roger Rees Awards for Excellence in Student Performance. The Roger Rees Awards recognize outstanding achievement in high school musical theater programs in the New York City area. Straight on the heels of this great accomplishment, William was also awarded first place in the Young Artists Awards from the eVoco Voice Collective.

William writes, "This was one of the most exciting and rewarding weekends of my life. These opportunities were a sign to me and everyone else involved in the process, that all of our hard work does not go unnoticed, and it does pay off over time. Throughout the entire weekend of participating in the eVoco Young Artist Awards recital/competition and the Roger Rees Awards showcase, I felt so lucky to be able to use the strategies and techniques that I learned from Usdan while performing. I also saw multiple familiar Usdan faces throughout the weekend both as fellow performers and mentors which soothed me. I also felt the support of Usdan throughout my experiences which boosted my confidence even more."


Sean Hill-Hotz
Entering his fifth-year at Usdan, Sean Hill-Hotz was the recipient of a Young Artists Award from eVoco Voice Collective, alongside his fellow Troupe member William Herbert. An award-winning collection of singers from Long Island, eVoco grants three high school singers scholarships to be used to further their musical pursuits. 

Sean shared, "Winning the eVoco Young Artists Scholarship was a pivotal moment in my experience as a young vocalist. Receiving this recognition was an incredible honor because my dedication and effort were recognized by a distinguished panel of judges. Attending Usdan shaped my development as a performer, instilling me with the confidence to pursue my passion for vocal and theatrical performance."


On May 16, former Artist in Residence The Knights closed out their first Carnegie Hall series in a sold-out concert. Executive Director Lauren Brandt Schloss was in the audience to cheer on the talented ensemble. Follow along in this photo essay. Photos courtesy of Lauren Brandt Schloss.

The Knights performed at Carnegie Hall's intimate Zankel Hall. Over a quarter of the musicians on stage have performed at Usdan!

After the performance, audience members and performers mingle in the lobby of Zankel Hall. Lauren ran into the wonderful Alex Sopp. In addition to being a flutist with The Knights, Alex is a vocalist and a painter.

Lauren also caught up with cellist Caitlin Sullivan. Caitlin was part of The Rhapsody Project at Usdan in Summer 2023. Can you spot her in this video? Stop by WQXR Kids Fair at the Brooklyn Children's Museum this Sunday, June 2 to see Caitlin and The Knights perform in the auditorium at 11:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. 

Missed The Knights at Carnegie Hall this year? Don't despair — the collective is returning for another series of three concerts during Carnegie's 2024/25 Season! Learn more.


This summer, Dennis will be teaching Senior Vocal Ensemble. Enroll today!

In anticipation of the start of the summer, we caught up with Usdan's Senior Vocal Ensemble teacher Dennis Creighton.

This is your first summer in the Music Department at Usdan. You will be teaching Senior Vocal Ensemble. What should your students know about you?  

I have 25 years of experience teaching choral music in public schools. I am a NYSSMA All-State Vocal judge, one of the Chairs for the NYSSMA All-State Choirs, and NYSCAME Suffolk All-County Choir Chair. Some of my former students have appeared on Broadway and several large opera houses including the Metropolitan. One of my students was even on "The Voice"!

I have toured through Europe several summers with high-school aged choirs performing in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. I also have guest conducted around the state at numerous All-County and Area All State festivals. This summer I'll also be conducting a concert with over 1,000 singers on a very busy weekend!

What are you excited to bring to your students this summer? What do you hope they will take away?

I believe everyone has a unique voice and can learn to use it better every time they sing. I'll be bringing some fun pieces (a few I've arranged myself) and a lot of techniques to help everyone sing their best. Singing well is a lot of hard work, but I hope to show students how to make it easier and lots of fun.

What kind of music do you like to listen to the most? Anything you have on repeat at the moment?

Ok so I'm kind of middle aged.... This means there's a lot of Dad Rock on my playlists, but I've been enjoying the new Billie Eilish album lately. My high school students keep me tuned in to some of the newer music out there so it's not just Rush and Hall and Oates over here. 

Lately I've been listening to a lot of Ghost, Maneskin, and the Mozart Requiem. "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will be in heavy rotation as it is the musical at my school next year.

Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing?

Nerd Alert! I find assembling Lego kits to be extremely satisfying. I love sci-fi and fantasy in all things: books, tv, movies, video games, etc. 

I also enjoy acting onstage and try to appear in a few shows a year, usually as a father figure-type.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

Dennis will be teaching Senior Vocal Ensemble in both the Major and Minor classes in 4-Week A and 4-Week B. Classes are filling quickly so we encourage you to enroll your young singers today


Help the next generation of artists by becoming a Usdan volunteer!

We offer multiple volunteer opportunities — helping in the Welcome Center, assisting with special events, providing administrative assistance, and more — as well as flexible schedules that work with your availability.

Every hour of volunteer time has a direct impact on the amount of scholarships we are able to provide each summer. Will this be your year to volunteer?

Save the Date! U Benefits 2024

July 24 & August 21
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Free, thanks to generous sponsors
All ages

As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, Usdan’s mission is to invite people of all ages to experience the natural beauty of our campus and the transformative power of the arts. Mark your calendar for July 24 and August 21, two fun-filled days at Usdan celebrating our students, our community, and the freedom of creative expression. Come for some or stay for all!

Thanks to generous sponsors, this event is free for our community.

Sponsorship opportunities available! To learn more, email Jessica Liss Feuer, Director of Development, at jliss@usdan.org.