Rutherford Locals Support The Charles Seller Foundation
Updated: Jul 13, 2019
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Head shot photos by Tom Russo of Tom Russo Photography
In 1950, a young man named Charles Seller was hit by a train, which resulted in the loss of one of his legs. His friends and family wanted to assist him with his medical expenses so they organized a variety show called, “Talent Time”. Soon after that production, The Charles Seller Foundation was created in Bloomfield, NJ to continue to assist those who need financial assistance due to a medical issue.
Every summer, members in their mid-teens to early thirties produce and perform a musical. The profits from the production go to an individual and/or family trying to cope with expensive medical costs.
This year, The Charles Seller Foundation will present James and the Giant Peach and the money raised will be given to nine month old, Sawyer Jane Barrow, who was born with Vein of Galen Aneurysmal Malformation (VGAM). VGAM affects the large vein that returns blood from the brain to the heart. Sawyer’s parents, Keith Barrow and Natalie Rodriguez, are both from Bloomfield, NJ.
Some of Rutherford’s own are part of this year’s production of James and the Giant Peach. Pierrepont School teachers, Ms. Courtney McManus and Mr. Matthew Vacarro, are co-directing the show. Rutherford students, Russell Gomez-Martinez, Justin Esposito, Jacob Stillson, Nico Schumacher, John Soulaine and Veronica Virostko are in the cast. This is Rutherford spoke with Courtney, Matthew, John and Veronica about this upcoming production and why this particular show is so important to each of them.
TIR: How did you learn about The Charles Seller Foundation?
Courtney McManus: Through a Facebook post! I saw a post on a NJ Theatre group and, on a whim, filled out the form. Originally, I had said I was interested in choreographing. However, once I was interviewed they asked if I would be interested in directing as well. Then, they asked if I knew anyone who would want to join the production team.
Matthew Vacarro: Courtney approached me about the possibility of working on a summer show. After coming off our two shows in Rutherford I was excited to try something new outside of the Rutherford Theater Program.
John Soulaine: I learned about the foundation once I had joined the show, and after I did some research on the foundation I found that they go about their cause in a rather unorthodox way by putting on musicals. That alone put me on board as I think more foundations should take a page from them and do something unorthodox like this, provided they can.
Veronica Virostko: I learned about The Charles Seller Foundation through Mr. Vacarro and Ms. McManus. I learned more about the foundation and what they stand for through my fellow cast members.
TIR: President of The Charles Seller Foundation, Noa Avital, told TIR, "This foundation is important to myself and many others because it combines the creative outlet of theater with the humanity and compassion of charity. Getting to do a musical can be a huge reward within itself, but also being able to help those around out and positively impact the community is lightening in a bottle; you can't find anything like it elsewhere. It gives our cast members chances to grow as a community, as young artists, and as people."
TIR: Why is it important for you to be involved in the foundation and this year’s production?
CM: At the beginning of this process, I was seeking ways to improve my own director skills. I also wanted the opportunity to learn best practices from others so that we could bring them back to Rutherford. After learning more about the foundation and its purpose, I knew this was the perfect fit.
MV: At first it was important to try something new and challenge ourselves to a community theater production, but then after meeting with the foundation and seeing all of the good work they do, as well as who the beneficiary is for this year, it became more than just doing a show; it was about changing someone's life.
JS: Because I have found a reason for acting other than just myself, knowing that this is all for Sawyer Jane, I find it much more rewarding than simply doing because I wanted to, as I have done before. On a more personal note, this is probably the last time I will be able to work with Mr. V and Mrs. McManus. They have made me the actor I am today, so this is a final thank you to them before I’m off into the world.
VV: It is important to be part of this foundation because of everything it stands for. I feel it’s so important to give back whenever I can. I’m so thankful to be healthy, but it must be acknowledged that not everyone is and so whatever you can do as a healthy person can mean a lot to someone who isn’t. This production is dedicated to someone who I know will love and appreciate the kind attention it provides.
TIR: Courtney and Matt, you are co-directing this year’s production. How did that all come about?
CM: When the foundation asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in coming on board, asking Matt was a no-brainer. Our partnership has been strong from the start. When I started directing, Matt had already done a few shows at Pierrepont. He knew a lot about directing, and I was able to choreograph. We have learned a lot from each other, but we also learn a lot from our casts. For us, we love the challenge of bringing our crazy ideas to life.
MV: Well Courtney and I do everything together. Co-directing is nothing new for us. We somehow found this crazy chemistry that works for us back in 2015 and it has been a tag team effort ever since. From Lion King Jr. to Mamma Mia and now this, it's an exciting ride and I wouldn’t direct with anyone else.
TIR: How was this year's production James and the Giant Peach chosen?
CM: When the schools in Rutherford merged in 2016, we had our first group of sixth graders. We pitched the idea of doing Seussical Jr. with that group of actors, and they were not interested. They wanted something new and different. Matt found the score of James and the Giant Peach, and sent me a couple of songs. I fell in love with the score; it is eloquent and sweet. From that experience, JATGP has been cemented as one of my favorite shows that we’ve ever done. However, we’ve always imagined what we could technically if we had the space and resources.
MV: Courtney brought this idea to do James and the Giant Peach again but on a larger scale. We did the Junior version at Pierrepont a few years ago and the love and passion we had for this show has only grown. We knew with the number of people that would be involved and the amount of talent for musical productions in the area, this show needed to be done again.
TIR: Noa Avital explained, "James and the Giant Peach was proposed to us by our Directors, Courtney and Matthew. Upon reviewing the material and working out the logistics we decided this was the best possible show to put on. James and the Giant Peach is whimsical, magical, fun, and most importantly has a lot of heart. Our production team is full of creative and inventive ways to present this story and I can't wait to present it to the public."
TIR: James and the Giant Peach seems to be appeal to all audiences, younger and older, why do you think that is?
CM: At its heart, JATGP is a story about a little boy who feels lost and alone. This is something that children can understand and adults can relate to from personal experience. In the end, James finds a new home with the most unlikely of people. Children see a happy ending, while adults know the profound truth in finding your place in this world. People come because they are familiar with the novel or the movie; they fall in love with it because of the lyrics and storytelling.
MV: I loved this movie as a kid and seeing it in musical form is even better. Not only is it about a child trying to find his way in the world, which most children are always trying to do, it’s about adult insects who need to find their meaning in life. They face challenges in their adventure that people deal with every day. Handling friendship and loss, anxiety, and fear. Most importantly it’s about finding love in the most bizarre places from those who are so different from yourself.
JS: I think that’s because there are themes that appeal to all ages and some themes that are specific to each age group. I feel like the reason why it appeals to all is similar to that of Catcher In The Rye. A teacher of mine said that the effect of it varies from the different points of your life. I have gone back and read it again recently and I understand it better than I did when I first read it a few years ago. Now that I finished reading it again, I connect with the story much more than I did before, which is why a story like this can also connect to audiences of different ages.
VV: James and The Giant Peach appeals to audiences because of its reputation as the classic story by Roald Dahl and its fun playful music and dancing.
TIR: How can people get involved in the productions that The Charles Seller Foundation presents every summer?
CM: The Charles Seller Foundation is run by an executive board, which are voted in by members. Usually, this board is comprised of people who have been members for a long time. What keeps this foundation going are people who have been dedicated for years who spread the word about its mission. They choose a beneficiary each year, someone from the Bloomfield community. They hold a cabaret in the winter and a musical in the summer to raise money to help their beneficiary with medical costs. Students who are interested can actually earn community service hours, which can be used for National Honor Society requirements or other service-oriented clubs.
MV: The Charles Seller Foundation holds a show every summer out of Bloomfield. Those who want to get involved can range from 14 to 30. If anyone wants to get involved they can reach out through Instagram, Facebook, www.thecharlesellerfoundation or through us.
TIR: What can audiences expect to see during these performances of James and the Giant Peach?
CM: This story will tug at your heartstrings, and enthrall everyone! Our cast is so full of energy, and are dedicated to bringing this story to life. Get ready to laugh, cry, cheer, and dance!
MV: Expect fun and excitement and a bunch of songs that will keep you singing for weeks. The cast of this show has been working so hard to bring out the emotion in this story and trust me there is plenty of it. From love to laughter, heartbreak to hopefulness, this musical has all of it. It truly is a treat.
JS: Well the first thing one should know is that this is nothing like the movie, but if you enjoyed the movie, you will enjoy this. That being said, the show is still very fun not only to be in but to see as well. It may seem a bit bizarre at first but don’t let that scare you off (smiles). Expect the unexpected, I suppose, the opening number will give you an idea of what you are about to witness and that could do much more justice than any words I give here.
VV: There’s a lot you should know about this show. It’s full of talented, really funny people. The cast and crew really make this show what it is. You can expect lots of fun and a really great experience. The dancing and singing will have you feeling happy and excited. It might even prompt you to come a second or third night!