Celebrating Spring Benefit Honoree Opening Act!

May 31, 2024
PlayCo's 2024 spring benefit honoree is none other than our community partner Opening Act! Actor Julia Sirna-Frest (Lunch Bunch), also a longtime teaching artist for Opening Act, reflects on what makes her work with the organization so rewarding.
Meet the Participants

Julia Sirna-Frest is a performer, director, musician. Favorite Performance credits include: [Porto] (WP Theater, The Bushwick Starr); Seder (Hartford Stage); A Tunnel Year (The Chocolate Factory); The Offending Gesture (Mac Wellman); Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House (JACK). She is a founding member of the Obie award winning Half Straddle Company, productions include: Ghost Rings (TBA/PICA); Ancient Lives (The Kitchen); Seagull (Thinking of you) (The New Ohio, International Tour), In the Pony Palace/Football (The Bushwick Starr, International Tour); Nurses in New England (The Ohio); The Knockout Blow (The Ontological). Composer/Performer with Chapman/Sirna-Frest and Co-Front woman of Doll Parts, Brooklyn’s Premiere Dolly Parton Cover Band, and has directed many projects written by her artistic soul mate Zoë Geltman. Member of the 2022-2024 WP Lab and New Georges Jam Cohort!

I started working with Opening Act as an intern 14 (!) years ago and it’s truly the most rewarding job I have ever had.  I have taught in over ten programs which, if my math is correct, includes about 450 students!

What’s special about Opening Act is that it is student-driven. We spend a year devising shows based on what our students are thinking about, dreaming about and stressing about.  In my fourteen years, I have made shows about haunted amusement parks, a critique of gentrification told telenovela-style via a Bushick bodega, a world where music was taken away, and a classic tale of a deranged game show host trying to murder his contestants. This year, one of my ensembles is making a play about the loss of communication in our modern world and how phones and social media are hindering true connection.

We do not prescribe what they ultimately perform, we as teaching artists, are there to guide our students to create the plays they want. Through this process I have watched countless young people learn to be leaders, to think creatively, to problem solve with their peers, to know that their ideas matter and to bask in the glow of satisfaction that comes from working on something and seeing it through and watching their ideas become a reality.

Opening Act creates a space where all ideas are heard and said "yes" to.  In the majority of teenagers' lives, there are a lot of rules and pressures to get things correct. Here, there is no “right” way to create a play. I love knowing that my students show up after school every week because they are given a space where for two hours they can be silly, creative, and have agency over our time together.

Making theater, even in the best of circumstances, is rarely easy. As a professional actor, I know how hard it is to build something from the ground up. Adults with years of training struggle to collaborate and find common ground. Watching these brave, fierce, beautiful teenagers do it (in once-a-week, two-hour sessions, no less) routinely takes my breath away. Opening Act is a voluntary program, so even if a student is sitting there, seemingly unengaged, I know that just by showing up they want to be there. Just sitting there is enough. It’s a space where your presence is rewarded and all the teaching artists try to meet each student where they are at, whether that means letting someone observe or be the star of the show.

I’m so thrilled that PlayCo is honoring Opening Act this year--I am a huge fan of all that PlayCo does (performing in a PlayCo production last year was a dream come true!) and they truly are the kindest theater company in NY.  I’m honored to share the night with my Dolly Parton Cover Band, Doll Parts (featuring fellow Opening Act Teaching Artist Alum Maggie Katz!).

It’s a real full circle moment!

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