By Sabina Mollot
A Stuyvesant Town couple who’ve worked professionally as actors and dancers on Broadway and traveling productions have recently branched out to launch a school/studio aimed at teaching theater and dance to kids.
The company, I Can Do That NYC, will officially launch in the fall, but owners Jeffrey Schecter and Melissa Swender-Schecter have already been gauging local interest from parents by offering summer camp intensive workshops. The classes they’ve held so far have been at the Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street after the company moved to a space there from a studio in Chelsea.
The school was inspired mainly by Helena, the couple’s three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
“She loves to sing and dance although she’d rather be teaching the class than listen,” said Schecter. Because of Helena’s interest, her parents had taken her to a few different children’s classes, only to then feel like they could do better, both in lesson content and price.
What’s different about his concept, he explained, is that he works in the industry as do the other teachers he’s already recruited for classes. “The classes are being taught by working actors. We’re in the business. We’re living it. I’m auditioning for shows every week.”
Schecter noted that prior to launching the school, he’d already had some teaching experience. For years, he’d guest taught at numerous workshops, usually speaking about the business end of working on Broadway, and recently, he began volunteering as a jazz dance instructor to seniors at the Stuyvesant Town Community Center. His students, he noted, are “so freakin’ cute” and he hopes to have them perform for neighbors on the Oval at some point.
Ideally, Schecter said he would like to see his school expand to teach kids of all ages but while getting the business off the ground, he’s focusing on the ages he’s seen the most interest from parents. That would be for kids two and half to five. He will however also offer at least one summer workshop to older kids (eight and up) as well as, over time, workshops that are more competitive.
Dance styles he’ll be teaching include Broadway style as well as hip-hop, jazz, ballet and freestyle. Half of the day of the summer workshops will be devoted to dance, the other half to theater. This will also include games and singing.
The workshops, which begin this month, each cost $395 for the whole week, with a sibling discount of $595 for two kids. The first one, from July 13-15, is sold out but the next camp, for kids 6-8, runs from July 20-24. There are more programs lined up in August as well.
Schecter’s theater resume started with the Nathan Lane revival of “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway in 1994. He later appeared in a run of “On the Town” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey and ensemble work in “Nice Show if You Can Get It” on Broadway where he worked opposite Matthew Broderick 25 times.
He appeared in a documentary, “Every Little Step,” in which he auditioned for the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.” Schecter ended up getting the role of Mike and performed during the show’s entire run from 2006-2008.
“I performed the song and dance ‘I can Do That’ over 500 times,’” he recalled. He’s also had principal roles in many shows out of town.
Swender-Schecter’s worked mainly in musical theater, often as a dancer. She worked for the Houston Ballet and played the tango dancer in a European tour of “Evita” and performed in another tour of “Phantom of the Opera.” She’s done “West Side Story” on numerous tours. The couple also performed together on Broadway in 2004 on “Wonderful Town.” They’d met at another production, this one in Switzerland. Swender-Schecter’s also had a few TV appearances including “All My Children,” “As The World Turns” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brian” as well as a film called “Phoebe in Wonderland.”
This year, the couple, who have lived in Stuyvesant Town for over 10 years, are also celebrating their 10th anniversary of marriage. Along with daughter Helena, they also have a son, Mattias, who’s eight weeks old.