Arts & Entertainment

Four Union Students Selected for Paper Mill Playhouse Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory

Crystal Wright Credits: Paper Mill Playhouse
Jason Yanto Credits: Paper Mill Playhouse
Grace Rivera Credits: Paper Mill Playhouse
Ashley Phillips Credits: Paper Mill Playhouse

MILLBURN, NJ — Union will be well represented at this year’s Paper Mill Summer Theatre Conservatory, as Ashley Phillips, Grace Rivera, Jason Yanto and Crystal Wright were all selected to join the prestigious New Voices 2017 cast.

Members of the competitive five-week program are directed and choreographed by Paper Mill Playhouse’s professional artistic staff in a fully produced, original concert entitled “New Voices of 2017: Everyone Loves an Underdog!” on the Paper Mill main stage to be presented at the culmination of the program on July 28 and 29.

For selected students, participating in the conservatory puts them on the same stage as notable alumni like Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables, The Devil Wears Prada), Connor Buckley (Surviving Jack), Jared Gertner (2014 Olivier Award nominee, West End) and many more.

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“Our students benefit greatly from studying at the Paper Mill during the summer,” said Union High School Performing Arts Company Director James Mosser.  “It gives them a chance to work with other students from across the state who are as passionate about theatre as they and learn from an outstanding staff concentrating on each of the disciplines. They bring all of this knowledge and experience back to the UHSPAC stage, helping to make our program even stronger.”

Phillips and Rivera will both be juniors in September at Union High School.  Yanto is a 2017 Union High graduate, attending Montclair State University.  Yanto was recently nominated for a Paper Mill Rising Star Award for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role as Lord Pinkleton in UHSPAC’s recent production of Cinderella.

Wright, also a Union High School 2017 graduate, is also attending Montclair State University. Wright recently played the title role of Cinderella in the UHSPAC production and was also nominated for a Paper Mill Rising Star Award for Outstanding Actor in a featured role as Mrs. Correy in UHSPAC’s 2016 production of Mary Poppins.

“We are so fortunate to have four students attending the Paper Mill Summer Conservatory,” said Union High School Performing Arts Company Choreographer Jennifer Williams.  “Each year we watch our students who have attended grow in their craft, coming back rejuvenated and ready for a new season with the UHSPAC.  We are so proud of those students who were accepted this year and we can’t wait to go watch them perform on the Paper Mill Stage.”

The rigorous program allows its students to enhance their individual performance potential while also developing a broad base of theater experience and knowledge, according to Paper Mill Playhouse. Classes include musical theater performance, acting, dance and improvisation and are aimed toward the development of self-discipline, respect and a commitment to excellence.

According to Mark Hoebee, producing artistic director, New Voices is an “amazing opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow.”

“From the first day of class all the way through opening night of New Voices, we require our students to rise to the demands of this rigorous program,” said Lisa Cooney, Paper Mill Playhouse Director of Education. “We ask them to work harder than they ever have before as young performers, and we strive to build an incredible ensemble company, while each student hones their own individual performance skills.”

Cooney said the faculty pushes the students to believe in themselves as professional artists and treats them as such. She said each summer the New Voices staff finds that the students surpass expectations.

“When they move on to college or the professional world, they are ready for the challenges they’ll face, and time and again they thrive and ultimately live their dream of being professional performer,” she said. “It’s gratifying when they make a name or themselves on Broadway or in Hollywood, but even if they do not, the skills they learn and the work ethic they develop will serve them in any field.”

More than 100 performers will be featured in the concert along with numerous winners and nominees of the 2017 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards who were presented with scholarships from Investors Foundation to attend the conservatory.

Performances will be held on Friday, July 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 29 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, in Millburn. Ticket range in price from $25 to $45. Tickets may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343, online at or by visiting the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn.

Riley and Samantha are pictured above, courtesy of Paper Mill Playhouse.

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