Kidz Konnection Celebrates a Decade of Bringing Youth Theater to the Shoreline
Laura Attanasio never imagined that when her kids asked her to start a theater group 10 years ago it would grow to a year-round group drawing hundreds of children from the shoreline and beyond. Kidz Konnection is a non-profit children’s theater group based in Clinton that offers classes and several productions throughout the year.
“The first year, I took a small group of kids and did what I knew I could do—one play,” says Attanasio. “I reached the realization that there was a demand for youth theater and people wanted it. We grew, then doing two plays, then adding a musical and more.”
Attanasio studied drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and then co-founded Interact Theater Company in Minnesota where she and and her husband lived.
In 1995, her husband’s job led the couple to move to Connecticut where they had two children. By the time her children were 7 and 9, they were asking to get involved with theater. When they couldn’t find a program, the children turned to their mother’s experience.
“They asked me to start a theater group and I thought, ‘Sure. Why not?’” Attanasio says. “At first, we were so small that I couldn’t even initially do the play—it was my two kids and another boy—and he asked if we could still do it if he found more kids.”
For the first production in 2006, there ended up being eight students. That group of 6- to 10-year-olds put on a full-length performance of Treasure Island with a blow-up palm tree to set the scene.
Before beginning, Attanasio wasn’t sure where she would hold her classes and rehearsals. She was working for The Dance Hutch at the time and the owner offered for the group to use that space and Attanasio credits her for “really helping me get my feet on the ground.”
At the conclusion of Treasure Island, the kids asked if they could do another play the next summer. As word of Kidz Konnection spread, the numbers grew to 24 in the second year and then 40 in the third year.
“The third year was pivotal,” says Attanasio. “My mouth was agape when I drove into the parking lot and had 40 kids in line waiting to audition for Alice in Wonderland.”
At that point, she recognized the need for her own space, settling on the basement in the Chip’s Pub Plaza on Route One in the center of Clinton. As the number of students grew, so did Kidz Konnection’s offerings. Now there are productions each season, as well as classes on everything from acting to musical theater, script-writing to production, and more.
“Now we’re a well-run machine—we reserve audition slots and make sure it’s a more efficient experience,” Attanasio says. “I run the business like a family, so when you’re here, you really feel that family environment. People know Kidz Konnection is a safe place to bring their children.”
Attanasio has seen many families return to Kidz Konnection year after year. The group draws people from far beyond the shoreline area with students from as far as Waterford, Ledyard, West Haven, and Hamden.
In the CTNow 2016 Best of Hartford Readers’ Poll, Kidz Konnection was named the No. 2 Best Community Theater program. While Attanasio is honored with the recognition, what’s even more important to her is helping her students to realize their potential through theater.
“It’s not about raising actors as much as raising leaders. It’s important that kids are learning how to build resources and how to collaborate because that’s what drives a successful society,” says Attanasio. “The kids may not even realize while they’re doing it, but every time they engage with another part of our community, they’re learning that.”
While Attanasio has a long résumé in theater, she also stresses that at Kidz Konnection, each student is treated as an individual and everyone is given a chance to shine. She notes that the leads in each play are never the same and every child has the potential to be a lead.
With Kidz Konnection’s success, Attanasio has also stressed the importance of reaching out to the community and being involved. Coming into its 10th year, Attanasio knew it was time to give back. Looking ahead, Attanasio has goals of growing even more and getting more involved in the communities throughout the shoreline.
Kiara Lopez, a member of Kidz Konnection for the past seven years, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but is now five years in remission. Throughout 2015, Kidz Konnection committed to donate five percent of its profits to the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, presenting the organization with a $1,000 donation.
“We wanted to give back to that organization because they really helped her through that medical trauma,” says Attanasio, who noted Make-a-Wish is the 2016 charity. “Now we’ll do this every year with the kids choosing a charity that gives back to youth. So many families and organizations have carried me so now it’s time for me to help carry others. My kids see that and will experience that and take that with them through their lives.”
Lopez has been able to find solace and an outlet at Kidz Konnection.
“Kidz Konnection is my home when I’m not at home,” says Lopez, who played Robin Hood in a 2015 production. “Whenever I’m having a bad day, I go to Kidz Konnection and all my problems are left outside the door.”
That is the environment that Attanasio has been striving for throughout her career. She wants students to feel safe in exploring their creativity at the studio, as well as have a voice in the decision-making process for each production.
“It’s a magical thing,” says Attanasio. “Kids need to discover themselves to innovate later in life and be inspired. It’s a happy place. A mother of a student from North Haven said, ‘You saved my son’s life. He didn’t feel like he fit into any groups in his school.’ Now he comes to Kidz Konnection and does everything.”
Because students return to Kidz Konnection year after year, after 10 years, some of the children have now aged into teenagers and young adults. The Shoreline Actors Collective was added to Kidz Konnection for actors aged 12 and up. She has not only gotten to know the students, but their families as well.
“We have had so many families who have come through my system and I’ve seen them grow and go off to college with some majoring in theater,” says Attanasio. “I have a firm belief in process of community effort. There is nothing more invigorating than walking into the studio and it’s jam-packed with adults building and painting and meeting one another. There’s something really powerful about people coming together.”
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Teaching Drama, Leadership, and So Much More
She’s a business owner, director, playwright, and former off-Broadway actress who is hoping to empower young people to become poised and confident through theater.
“I use drama as a tool to teach leadership skills,” says Laura Attanasio of Clinton.
Laura is the founder of nonprofit organization KidzKonnection, which provides programs and classes in youth theater, performance, journalism, and more.
Her goal in Clinton is the same goal she’s had wherever she lived—that through her work in theater, she can focus on community outreach programs, children, and people of all ages with special needs.
“It is our civic duty as leaders today to create the leaders of tomorrow,” she says.
When Laura and her husband lived in Minneapolis, she co-founded the Interact Theatre Company, a group that was formed to provide a place for people with disabilities to act and sing.
After moving to Connecticut in 1995, Laura worked for both the Hartford and Westbrook YMCA camps and was the artistic director at Valley Regional High School, putting her degree in theater from New York University to work.
Today, through her company, she is using drama to help kids become more self-assured, confident, and community-minded. She believes that qualities such as effective leadership skills, confidence in public speaking, good communication, and strong interpersonal skills can be achieved through multi-media such as the stage.
Kidz Konnection has an array of programs and activities for kids of all ages throughout the year.