ELIZABETH, NJ – Rising seniors at Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy Gabby Gomez and Brianny Santos, both 17 years old, were selected to participate in the Paper Mill Playhouse’s prestigious Summer Musical Theater Conservatory, whose alumni include Oscar winner Anne Hathaway.

They are two of 122 chosen out of approximately 1000 young performers who auditioned statewide.

“My first audition at the Paper Mill was the scariest,” remembered Gomez who is in the program for the third year. “Everyone was so talented. They were amazing.”

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Added Santos, “You have 10 people auditioning with you who are just as good and ambitious as you are. Then, you have 10 judges looking at you and writing things down in a notebook.”

Both credited their teachers at Dr. Albert Einstein Academy, where the two met in the sixth grade, and at Thomas Jefferson for preparing them to be successful. At both schools, they were taught singing, dancing, and acting. Said Gomez, “The art programs are amazing.”

At the Paper Mill, the pair is spending five, busy weeks in intensive classes including musical theater performance, acting, dance, and improvisation, while also attending guest workshops led by professional actors, directors, and casting agents. They are rehearsing the original concert on the Paper Mill main stage entitled New Voices of 2015: Hooray for Hollywood! a tribute to the magical partnership between the Silver Screen and the Great White Way. Members of the Conservatory are divided into three divisions: the Senior (ages 15-18), Junior Plus (ages 13-14), and Junior Companies (ages 10-12). They are directed and choreographed by Paper Mill Playhouse’s professional artistic staff. Santos and Gomez are in different sections. The theme of Gomez’s group is the classic or legendary stars such as Gene Kelly and Judy Garland and their movies that became musicals and vice versa. Santos is working with contemporary movies that became musicals such as Shrek, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Bring it On

For Santos and Gomez, the Paper Mill program is the culmination of a lifelong goal, coupled with lots of hard work. Said Santos, “My mom used to take me shows. I was in the second grade when I saw my first show, the Wizard of Oz, and I wanted to be a part of it.” Both started performing in musicals in the sixth grade and have continued to the present. Like true performers, neither one has ever experienced stage fright. “So many things go through your head at once,” said Santos. “I just hope everyone who comes to see me enjoys it as much as I do. Leave it on the floor and have a good time.” 

Added Gomez, “Everyone on the stage wants it as badly as you do. Everyone is there because they love it.”

Future plans for both call for them to continue studying theater. Gomez is looking at conservatories, while Santos is planning to study business with a musical theater minor. “While I love theater and can’t see myself doing anything else, it is an uncertain profession with a lots of no’s. I am thinking of maybe opening my own theater someday.”

Whatever they decide to do in the years to come, they remain drawn to the lure of the stage. “My most memorable moment was when the curtain went up, and you see that sea of people,” remembered Gomez of her first performance at the Paper Mill. “I’ll never forget that.”

Performances of New Voices of 2015: Hooray for Hollywood! will be held on Friday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 1 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ.Tickets, may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343, online at www.papermill.org, or visit the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn.