Autistic singer from Southern New Jersey to make Lincoln Center debut

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More than anything, Shayna Goldberg would rather sing.

She had years of vocal training to strengthen and hone her talent, as well as years of guitar lessons.

Her talents have been nurtured in her hometown of Mount Laurel at the Adath Emanu-El Synagogue, where she serves as chant leader during services, and at the camps of the South Jersey Jewish Community Center.

But in recent years, Shayna Goldberg has found an outlet that gives her voice greater visibility.

On Saturday, she will perform in a cabaret show in New York at Lincoln Center with the EPIC Players, a musical troupe from the city, joined on stage by Broadway alumni who regularly perform with them in shows ranging from Shakespeare’s theme at show tunes. .

Goldberg, 20, has more in common than just musical experience with most of the roughly two dozen members of EPIC Players, with whom she has performed as a soprano for four years.

She and other EPIC members have developmental disabilities; EPIC helps them overcome neurology-related challenges through rehearsals and performances, as well as related support programs.

“Singing comes naturally to me. I sing all the time,” Goldberg said. “It makes me feel special and energetic, especially when I hit the high notes.”

“An equal chance to pursue their dreams”

Although autism impacted her life, such as in some areas of communication, it did not hinder her in many others, such as her passion and determination to sing and play guitar.

So, what is his favorite music? Broadway show tunes and Jewish songs.

On Saturday, she will appear on “EPIC Heroes: Live at Lincoln Center” with 22 other EPIC artists, singing Mariah Carey’s hit song, “Heroes,” in a duet with cast member Nada Smith of Brooklyn, New York.

Aubrie Therrien, Executive and Artistic Director of EPIC Players, manages 80 players from New Jersey and New York.

“While everyone has a talent, some talents aren’t clear until they’re brought to light,” said Therrien, “This celebratory event is an opportunity to showcase players’ progress and successes. EPIC and our community of neuro-diverse actors – all looking for an equal chance to pursue their dreams.”

The show’s songs speak to the hero in all of us, she said.

Therrien praised Goldberg’s dedication to his craft.

“Shayna is a very, very infectious and enigmatic performer who is dedicated to vocalization and lights up a stage. She is so talented and loves to sing on stage, that’s where her performing personality shines. You can just see it.”

Goldberg is also looking forward to showtime after rehearsals are over, his manager observed.

In a recent interview at his home with his mother, Goldberg confirmed Therrien’s comment with a nod and a few words of approval and a broad smile that is so much a part of his outgoing and positive personality.

Make the scene more accessible to everyone

EPIC stands for Empower, Perform, Include and Create, and is a non-profit neuro-diverse theater company dedicated to creating professional performing arts opportunities and supportive social arts communities for people with intellectual disability through major productions; free skills-based courses and career resources, Therrien said.

“We hope to increase opportunities for critical, gainful employment; pioneer greater inclusion in the arts; eliminate social stigmas surrounding neurodiverse communities and promote gainful employment,” added Therrien, whose organization pays Goldberg and his other players.

The cast of “Heroes” also includes performances by former neurotypical Broadway alums, including DeAnne Stewart of “Jagged Little Pill”; Derek Klena, who was nominated for a Tony Award on that same show; Rebecca Kuznick of “Sista” and Jake David Smith of “Frozen.”

The musical director of the cabaret is Scott Evans of “Indigo”.

Goldberg’s previous EPIC experience has included singing and expressive switching to music, sometimes in full costume, duets and quartets with some solo parts. She sang with actress/singer Haley Swindal, who starred in the Broadway production of “Chicago.”

Goldberg has a bubbly, outgoing personality and isn’t afraid to approach people, said her mother Laura Goldberg, who adds that her daughter is her hero.

Shayna Goldberg, left, with her mother, Laura of Mount Laurel

“She amazes me and she brings such joy to people and she is the happiest and kindest person,” her mother said.

Bringing EPIC closer to home

Laura Goldberg is exploring the possibility of creating an EPIC Players chapter in Philadelphia that would also serve South Jersey.

She said the distance traveled to New York for rehearsals prevented her from driving Shayna to New York for more than two EPIC shows a year.

“Aubrie and I are talking about it and planning to set up a meeting for her to come here later in the year. I’m contacting some groups here who might be interested in helping out, and I’d really like to talk to the Philadelphia Eagles because they have an autism foundation.” she explained.

“I really want this to happen.”

Her daughter has sung at Joe’s Pub in Greenwich Village, in Boston for the Doug Flutie Jr. Autism Foundation and most recently at a Florida synagogue that approached her to perform at a Shabbat service.

She also enjoyed being in the spotlight closer to home.

The singer performed in plays at Lenape Regional High School. As a senior, she was crowned prom queen in 2019 at Lenape, where she is enrolled in an adult transition and life skills program. She is also honing her cooking skills through a Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey cooking program.

When Adath Emanu-El commissioned a new Torah to be written by both a scribe and various families in the congregation, Shayna Goldberg was chosen to write her first letter in Hebrew with her mother and father Ed.

At the dedication of a new Torah to Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, singer Shayna Goldberg, center in pink, and cantor Sandra Messenger lead the congregation as they sing in the synagogue on March 6, 2022.

At the Torah dedication earlier this month, she sang and recited the opening lines of the Torah about God’s creation of the world.

“Shayna Goldberg is extraordinary,” says the synagogue’s Rabbi Benjamin David. “She was born with challenges, but she’s such a remarkable person – sweet, kind, loving, generous and musical.”

Only live stream tickets remain available for Saturday’s 7 p.m. performance, but EPIC will also be offering free “Heroes” performances at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 30 in the Lincoln Center Atrium.

To purchase streaming tickets, visit tinyurl.com/epicplayers.

To reserve a seat for free performances, visit lincolncenter.org/venue/atrium.

Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey life, history and veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and Daily Journal. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected].

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