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From the Arts Center to Park Avenue
New York Group
Stephanie Keel (fourth from right), marketing director at the Arts Center of Kershaw County, is joined by the youth who accompanied her in New York City for a series of auditions. Keel said each member of the group received callbacks and one member was submitted for a job. With Keel are (from left) Missy Ferguson-Peebles and youth auditioners Ivan Harris, Hannah Beben, Lucy McIver, Harris Younghans, Ava Johnson, Crickette Chmiel, Mattalyn Shirey and Riley Grace Burch.

On June 10, eight kids from Kershaw County performed in front of some of the top agents, casting directors, and managers in New York City at the Victor Borge Hall on Park Avenue. For months, they rehearsed for this event at the Arts Center of Kershaw County under the instruction of Stephanie Keel, owner of Stevie Model Management in Camden.

Connect NYC, founded and owned by Stephanie Duke of Savannah, Ga. -- a former model and Keel’s longtime friend and colleague -- gives people the opportunity to audition in one of the largest talent markets in the world: New York. Connect NYC is held just like a real New York audition. Performers go on stage, introduce themselves -- or “slate” as it is called in auditions -- and go directly into their chosen scripts, songs or dances. Agents, casting directors and managers watch the talent perform while they are looking at their photos -- a unique opportunity to be seen in person and in print simultaneously.

People who receive callbacks spend the next two days hopping around the city, going from agency to agency, meeting with VIPs who think they have what it takes to make it in the industry. This summer, every single member of the Camden group received callbacks. Harris Younghans of Camden was even submitted for a job while he was there!

Keel is also the director of marketing for the Arts Center of Kershaw County.

“It’s the perfect marriage between stages,” she says of the two entities. “I have watched all of these kids and adults perform since I moved home from New York and began working at the place I grew up -- the Arts Center, and thought, why can’t they go to New York and do this? I have spent most of my adult life scouting, training and placing models and talent. Connect NYC is the best way to get people into the mix of Manhattan. Not only is it the real deal; it’s done with integrity. And what better place to start on that path than right here in Camden at the center? The opportunities are endless. There is an enormous amount of talent right here at home. All you need is the desire, the know-how, and good photos. We actually had our photo shoot in my back yard. Who would have thought images of my yard would end up on Park Avenue?”

So, off they went, a group of eight kids and their parents, including a couple of grandmothers, to New York City. The group became extremely close and supportive of one another, a byproduct of Keel’s class.

“I hold my students to a high standard.” Keel said. “I want them to set the bar high when it comes to professionalism, humility, and kindness. It showed, too. Not only did they shine on stage. They were the brightest lights in the whole city. Those hardcore professional New Yorkers loved them.”

In addition to Harris Younghans, the performers who attended the June 10 Connect NYC were Ivan Harris, Mattalyn Shirey, Hannah Beben, Ava Johnson, Riley Grace Burch, Crickette Chmiel and Lucy McIver.

“The other thing I love about this event is that it is not a competition. Everyone is a winner, callbacks or not. If you can get up on stage in the middle of New York in front of some of the most intimidating people in the world, you can do anything,” Keel said.

She said she hopes to bring many more to New York. One of the happiest moments for her was when Ivan Harris gained interest from her old office in Soho.

“Ivan is the quintessential theatre kid,” she said. “He walks every single day, to every single rehearsal, for every single performance. He was born to do this. It was incredibly gratifying to talk to the people I used to work with and hear, ‘we want Ivan.’ Dreams really do come true.”

The next auditions for Connect NYC are Wednesday (tomorrow) at 5:30 pm at the Arts Center in the Wood Auditorium. Keel starts at age 4 and has even gotten a 78-year-old grandfather signed! Actors and models should bring head shots and/or portfolios if they have them (they can be on a phone or tablet). Everyone must do a commercial read and/or a one-minute monologue. Dancers should perform a one-minute routine. Be prepared to link your phone to the speaker provided for music.

Singers will be asked to perform a song of their choice for one minute and they must sing a cappella. Please prepare a 30 second performance for stand up if you are interested in comedy.

Learn more at www.connectnycevent.com.