Stars shine brighter with summer program

On August 15, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The cast and crew of Project Star: (front, left to right) Melissa Gay, Fatima Nolasco, Jack Papendorp, Gianluca Oppedisano, (rear, left to right) Ciara Happas, Jennifer Silva, Karma Perez, Jimmy DelPonte, Lyle Doherty and Andrew Silva. Not pictured: Valerie Farley. – Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran

Project Star youth to perform August 16

By Elizabeth Sheeran

A little comedy. A little song. A lot of fun.

The youth cast of Project Star promise all that and more when they perform Time for a Change, free to the public, on Thursday evening.

“It’s comedy. Comedy. Really funny stuff,” said Melissa Gay, who is entering eighth grade at the Kennedy School.

Gay is one of 10 Somerville middle school and high schoolers who have spent the past six weeks creating an original musical production under the direction of local showman Jimmy Del Ponte.

An alumnus of the original Project Star when it was a summer staple a generation or more ago, Del Ponte was a driving force behind resurrecting the program when he became Somerville’s Youth Arts Coordinator four years ago. Along with his theater arts degree from Emerson College, Del Ponte brings his well-known brand of humor to Project Star, although he is quick to say the kids really do all the work.

Cast members don’t just perform onstage. They collaborate on developing the story line and writing the script, and they construct the scenery, props and costumes. Participants say one of the things they like most about the experience is the way the “Star” in “Project Star” means a lot more than being in the spotlight.

“Everybody is the star of the show, no matter how small a role, or if you’re even behind the scenes,” said Gay. The kids all had high praise for group member Valerie Farley, an 11-year-old who couldn’t be around to perform, but took the lead on crafting everything from a time machine to a Shakespearean collar out of duct tape.

Del Ponte said the program is a great steppingstone into the performing arts for kids without experience.

“At first I thought, ‘I can’t really do theater,’ so I came to Project Star to work on it and feel more comfortable with it,” said Ciara Happas, an eighth grader at West Somerville Neighborhood School, who is now looking forward to being in musicals when she gets to high school.

But at its core, Project Star is less about preparing youth for life on the stage, and more about preparing them for life.

“All I really wanted was for them to be able to be in front of people and have more confidence in themselves, because you’re in front of people for the rest of your life, even if you’re in line at the Registry,” said Del Ponte. “All I ever asked was that they walk away from here with a little bit more confidence, being comfortable speaking in their own voice, creating their own identity, and not being afraid of ‘this is who I am.’”

Cast members agreed that Project Star has given them more confidence to try new things in the future. They said their acting training will make them better public speakers at school. Improvisation exercises help them think on their feet. And the whole experience has taught them how creativity, cooperation and hard work can really pay off.

But for now, they’re most excited about the chance to finally bring their show to a live audience. This year’s production, which features original musical numbers, tells the story of a group of science students who accidentally invent a time machine and make some interesting choices about how they’re going to use it.

“It’s just really funny,” said Fatima Nolasco, who is about to begin sixth grade at Prospect Hill Academy.

“Families and friends and everyone can come. I think it will inspire other kids to join Project Star the year after,” said Jennifer Silva, an incoming junior at Somerville High School, who helped direct the show.

The family-friendly performance, which will also include a demonstration of improvisation games, will be presented at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 16, at the West Somerville Neighborhood School, 177 Powder House Boulevard.

And Del Ponte said it’s not too early to find out about next summer’s fee-free Project Star program, by contacting him at



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