“Whether it’s running a light or doing a jazz square, there is a place in a musical theater production for EVERY child,” Ripley will tell you. “It is inevitably the child who played the role of ‘tree’ who recounts years later that it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.”
Now collaborating with partners including The White House, NBC, and The Kennedy Center, Ripley exhibits the same passion and commitment to being a national educational consultant as she brought to her 33 year career as a vocal educator and music department chair of the Gowanda Central School district in rural Western New York State.
“Student musical theater performances are not about creating the stars of tomorrow, they allow young people to learn important life skills and an appreciation of the arts by working together toward the common goal of presenting a musical.”
In Gowanda (current population: 2,674), she produced and directed over 100 productions, compensating for her lack of a budget with creativity and enthusiasm. Her dedication and passion ignited the imaginations of countless students and parents. These humble musical theater productions blossomed into a dynamic multi-school program which received a “football game” response from the community.
Her work caught the eye of theater impresario Freddie Gershon, head of the leading musical theatre licensing firm Music Theater International (MTI). Alarmed that the next generation of theater goers and artists was being lost to budget cuts and video games, Gershon founded the first-ever educational division at a musical theater licensing firm. He tapped Ripley to assist MTI’s team in developing versions of musicals for young people to perform, as well as corresponding director resources, including a director’s guide, choreography DVDs and a music CD with rehearsal and performance tracks.
Today, the division has grown to include more than 45 titles and, in addition to her ongoing work consulting with MTI, Ripley gives advice and support to directors worldwide through the company’s MTI Showspace, a social networking site for theatre people.
Eventually MTI’s educational division became so successful that it spun off into its own independent company: the educational musical theater consultancy firm iTheatrics. Ripley became iTheatrics’ lead educational consultant and has been integral in helping the company create quality and sustainable musical theater programs for a variety of partners in the private and public sector.
Through iTheatrics, Ripley serves as one of the company’s teaching artists for The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH)’s Turnaround Arts initiative which uses the arts to help turn around low-performing schools. Ripley worked with students from Bridgeport Connecticut’s Roosevelt School as they prepared to perform for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House’s first-ever talent show, which was also attended by President Barrack Obama.
“I have always believed that if you set high expectations – combined with love and humor – students will achieve them. I have never been disappointed,” says Ripley.
Just as one can’t stage a musical from one’s desk, Ripley and the iTheatrics team have designed a series of dynamic workshops that have educators and students singing, dancing and acting their way through learning how to create student-driven musical theater programs. They’ve offered these at dozens of performing arts centers across the country, as well as on behalf of the New York City Department of Education, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, most recently, for the 35 educators representing the next class of President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Turnaround Arts schools.
When producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron looked to create a charity affiliated with Smash, the NBC show about Broadway, iTheatrics placed Ripley at the forefront of the resulting Smash Make a Musical program. During the show’s two year run, Ripley and the fellow iTheatrics teaching artists went directly into schools to train and empower educators to build self-sustaining theater programs.
Serving on the board of Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, Ripley has been a catalyst for the inaugural Shea’s Performing Arts Center Junior Theater Celebration. At the 2014 event, Broadway professionals -including Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, The Musical!, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach)- joined 350 local students and teachers in a dynamic day of workshop, professional development and student presentations.
From the makeshift stage she started her program on in Gowanda to the Broadway boards she now treads with the next generation, Ripley stays true to her belief that all individuals are inherently creative. Student by student, school by school, community by community, she is showing how offering arts opportunities to students makes the world a better place.