HP theater ed expert Tova Halpern and ‘Shrek’ conspire to inspire

The press release* sent to New Jersey media highlighted a mid-January (Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, 2016) Highland Park Youth Theatre Company production of Shrek the Musical, Jr., the story of an “unlikely hero” on a “life-changing journey.” Highland Park resident Tova Halpern, the director of this Shrek production, might be considered an “unlikely hero(ine)” also on a life-changing journey – changing the lives of others.

Tova Halpern is the founder, chief executive officer and artistic director of Fresh Theatre Arts (FTA), an educational theater company whose mission is to introduce, educate and encourage youth to participate in performing arts programming while strengthening creativity, self-esteem, and social skills of the participants. FTA’s goal is to provide professional instruction in the areas of technical theater, acting, dance and voice. The Highland Park Youth Theatre Company is run through the Highland Park Department of Recreation, which contracts with Tova and her Fresh Theatre Arts for three productions per year. According to testimonials from students, parents, and teachers, these productions have been transformational for the participating youngsters.

“While core subjects can be stressful and overwhelming for some students, extra curricular activities create an opportunity for a child to grow and develop in comfortable circumstances that they might not get anywhere else. Today’s leaders are created inside and outside of the classroom. Through Fresh Theatre’s professional programming, students gain confidence and learn skills that are critical to their success in every day life,” said Tova.

She graduated with her B.A. in Theater Arts from Rutgers University in 2006. While at Rutgers, she was a director and producer for the Hillel Theatre Company and brought the company back to life. After graduating from Rutgers, Tova went to work on Broadway at Richard Frankel Productions, producers for Hairspray, Stomp and Young Frankenstein. After gaining a true Broadway experience, she decided to go back to school and received her M.A. in Educational Theater from New York University. Tova has been teaching and directing theater with children and adults for over 12 years.

When she and her husband decided to settle in Highland Park after they graduated from Rutgers, she became very involved professionally in theater arts activities within the Highland Park community. In addition to her responsibilities with the Fresh Theatre Arts program, Tova is the director of the Highland Park High School Drama Club. The Fresh Theatre Arts program, however, has a stage that extends far beyond the borders of Highland Park. She has worked her magic on the youngsters from several municipalities, including: Edison, Metuchen, Deal, North Brunswick, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Manville, Piscataway, Princeton, and Belle Meade

“HPYTC is a Highland Park Department of Recreation program run by my company (me), Fresh Theatre Arts. Fresh Theatre Arts is paid to run this program. The HPYTC is subsidized by a NJ State Arts Grant, which allows the recreation department to charge a minimal participation fee to both residents and non-residents of Highland Park. We also raise money through selling ads for the show playbill. This allows us to NOT charge for ticket sales (however, there is a suggested $2 donation at the door),” explained Tova.

Although Tova has no illusions that her Fresh Theatre Arts initiative would merit its own Disney production, she is thrilled that she has had the success allowing her to produce Disney productions like Shrek, Jr. and inspire the youngsters with whom she works.


Press Release: Everyone’s favorite upside-down fairytale comes to Highland Park when The Highland Park Youth Theatre Company presents Shrek the Musical, Jr, a song-and dance-filled stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning DreamWorks animated film, Freddie Gershon, CEO of Music Theatre International (MTI). Shrek, Jr is part of the MTI Broadway Junior Collection®, MTI’s special collection of musicals for younger performers which includes “JR.” titles, 60-minute musicals for performance by middle school children.

Shrek the Musical, Jr. tells the story of an unlikely hero, Shrek finding himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking Donkey and a feisty princess who resists her rescue. Throw in a short tempered bad guy, a cookie with an attitude, and over a dozen other fairy tale misfits, and you have the kind of mess that calls for a real hero.

“There is something very meaningful in having students with a wide range of interests and talents work together on a show with such a profound message about the power of acceptance. We hope your community will join us in applauding all the ways that these young people have contributed towards creating their unique interpretation of Shrek the Musical, Jr.” said Mr. Gershon.

A performance of DreamWorks’s Shrek, Jr. is open to the public at the Highland Park High School Auditorium on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm and Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 2 pm. Admission is free, however, there is a suggested donation of two dollars.

The Highland Park Youth Theatre Company (HPYTC) is run through the Highland Park Department of Recreation. This program is open to children ages eight to16 years old. The HPYTC produces three musicals a year, one of which is performed at the town wide July 4th celebration. No experience necessary. This program introduces children to the world of theater through improvisation, games, acting, singing and dancing. Each session culminates in a full-scale production. Directed by Tova Halpern, founder and artistic director of Fresh Theatre Arts, LLC and musically directed by Avi Wolf. For more information on how you can become involved in the HPYTC, contact Highland Park Recreation at 732-819-0411. For more information on Fresh Theatre Arts, check out the website www.freshtheatrearts.com


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