All it took for Laurie Walton to become the director of The Riverdale Y’s performing arts department was a knock on the door and an offer to direct a teen show. All on a budget of $500.
It was just 18 years ago when Walton showed up to The Y with a desire to work with teenagers, a role that has since grown to include running multiple departments ranging from acting to dance. Now, she’s about to embark on a new journey: Revamping the performing arts program to offer new classes and workshops to accommodate kids, teens and adults beginning this fall.
Its new name? The Riverdale Performing Arts Center.
It was a perfect storm of events that led Walton to take the leap into this new program. Two Y staff members — one from the dance department and another from music — were leaving. At the same time, Walton heard people were interested in classes such as improvisational acting that weren’t readily available at the facility.
“It just sort of aligned,” she said, “and all the pieces started to fall through.”
The Y currently offers a multitude of programs for people interested in music, dance and theater. There’s even a summer camp available for kids 7 to 12 to put on a musical theater production.
But the performing arts department is best known as the home for the Riverdale Rising Stars, a musical theater program with different companies for teenagers, kids and adults that each put on shows twice a year during the regular theater season, along with a teen show in the summer.
While Walton plans to keep these existing programs, which have become a staple at the Y, she also thinks it’s time to give people more options.
In her office at The Y, she has a big list of potential classes and workshops for the fall. Without even looking at that list, she can name them off the top of her head: Choral groups for women who love ‘60s and ‘70s music. Music lessons for instruments like guitar and violin. Acting classes for people who might not want a career on Broadway and just want a place to have fun.
And those don’t even scratch the surface.
“Not everyone wants to do musical theater,” Walton said. “That’s why I want to offer other options for other people.”
Walton hopes to change the culture of what The Y can do for people who love the arts.
“I think it could open up a world for our community of learning,” she said, “of sort of continuing education, but on a level that could be intense, if you wanted to.”
But first, she needs to see what works.
“We’re just going to offer a whole bunch of stuff and see what the community will absorb, and see what they’re excited to take,” she said.
Despite being well-known for the musical productions children and teenagers star in every season, Walton believes there’s also a need for adult community theater in Riverdale that can be met with The Y’s revamp.
“People need the outlets,” she said. “They need creative outlets and they need to be entertained, and they need to have fun in their lives because real life is scary right now.”
As Walton and her team of faculty members from the music, theater and dance departments figure out pricing and scheduling for their ideas, they know it won’t be a cakewalk. Walton is a big believer in being patient and nurturing things.
“It’s going to have a growing period,” she said. “But so did I. When I started, it was just me and some teenagers and ‘Grease.’”
But for now, Walton looks forward to the positives.
“I hope this gives more people a chance to at least think about doing it,” she said. “Once things get going, if it becomes the regular place people come to get their performing arts fill, then I’ll be really happy.”