Thursday, December 16, 2010

Powerful Impact People: Kenneth Hopkins

You’d have to strap on your dance shoes just to keep up with Kenneth Hopkins, Milford resident and Executive Director/Co-Artistic Director of the New England Ballet Company.  He founded the company in 1989 and shares artistic director duties with Karen Goodman, “Bringing Children to the Arts and Arts to the Children.”

His day starts out on the internet with emails, social media like Facebook, updating the website and mapping out the day. 

Then he’s off to Bridgeport.  Kenneth oversees the teaching and performing that New England Ballet leads for Action for Bridgeport Community Development (ABCD) in a program that brings dance and movement classes to children from 3 to 5 years old.  NEB received a $4000 grant from United Way for performances and a $3000 grant from the Jamie Hulley Arts Foundation for teaching. The ballet is involved in teaching dance classes to the group in weekly classes. This Monday, as part of the ABCD program, the ballet company is performing the Nutcracker Suite at the George Pipkin location in Bridgeport.  The company dancers also receive community service hours for performing.

Luckily the props and costumes are still packed up from the day before.  Sunday’s performance at the Stratford Theatre kicked off their 19th season of the Nutcracker.  While the bulk of their performances are here in Milford at the Parsons Government Center, their Sugar Plum Party at Stratford Theatre is a major fundraiser for the company.  Kenneth was there, by 8 am supervising the floor set-up, getting the dancers blocked, doing prep work and changing into his “Mother Ginger” costume. During the two-show event he signed books entitled, “Mother Ginger’s Nutcracker Sweets” a fund-raising recipe book with photos of the dancers in their costumes and with holiday recipes from current and former dancers.

As he returned to the NEB offices Monday he focused on Nutcracker ticket sales, a fully costumed production of that great holiday classic.  In keeping with their mission of bringing children to the arts, Milford fourth graders have seen this production every year for the past 19 years. This year’s public shows are on December 18 and 19th at Parsons Government Center in Milford.

From 4pm-9pm Kenneth oversees classes and rehearsals at the studio. Since he is the artistic vision behind the productions he oversees costuming and makeup with wardrobe master, Drew Mancuso, who is responsible for the whole look from wigs and headpieces down to the eye shadow they wear.  He also meets with the committee of board members for their collaboration with the Milford recreation department and their work on the Adaptive Nutcracker Suite to be performed on Friday, December 17. Children of all needs are integrated into the Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite that runs before their larger production of Nutcracker.  Innovative ideas like including wheel chair bound dancers into Waltz of the Flowers, is something to look forward to.

This adaptive program is an after school dance program through the Milford Recreation Department utilizing mentor dancers/teachers from New England Ballet, like Shaina Arsenault and Katie Kurata (both playing “Clara” this year).“We are thinking ahead because NEB has written a grant to Autism Speaks, so we are starting our work on this idea now with the performances and videos.  Autism Speaks is interested in funding dance groups for children with autism.”

With opportunities for his dancers through ABCD and the Milford Recreation department to mentor and perform for children who have never seen live performance while getting trained to be high level ballet dancers, the company is offering more than just dance training. “We are now teaching them how to make a difference in the community, one child at a time. To change a life through the arts.”

“One of our little boys in Bridgeport who just started the program with ABCD is participating in his first live production at five years old. He’s playing a soldier mouse and is adorable”.  When asked what benefit this had to the young boy Kenneth says, “ it teaches him motor skills, interaction in a social group through the arts and is an introduction to classical music. The whole concept is that it opens their minds to learn about other possibilities than what they see normally.”

Since funding for the arts was cut by 80% statewide the ballet saw their state funding sink from $17,500 to $3000 this year.  But they are surviving the economic crunch with creative fund raising utilizing social media, working with a great board, and partnering with a cutting-edge internet marketing company that provides access to billion dollar markets and the know-how and technology that benefits this group.  He first saw the advantages to social media/marketing at their production of Swan Lake in May.  Never having more than 300 audience members, this year the production had at least 700 excited fans.   Ken credits his internet savvy to the expertise learned from partnering with

When the work day is over for most professionals, rehearsals at the ballet don’t end until 9pm and Ken, the renaissance man who is also a professional photographer, holds photography sessions and goes over details on promotional material till 2am for the ballet.  The fund raising cookbook is all set and now it’s time for the next big idea. 

For Kenneth, there is more than just art cooking at the ballet. 

Visit the New England Ballet online at:



You can get my attention as a non profit if your marketing approach is unreasonably well designed, if your preparation is unreasonably over the top, if your volunteers are unreasonably attentive and generous and honest. You can earn my recommendation and donations if the experience of your fund raising is unreasonably over-the-top, out-of-the-box irresistible given the competition.

This goes for all businesses as well. It even applies to getting into a famous college.  You'll need to have unreasonably high grades, impossibly positive recommendations and yes indeed, a life that's balanced. That's totally unreasonable.

The non profit market as well as the business market now expects and demands an unreasonable effort on your part. You don't have to like it, but it’s true.

Unreasonable is the new reasonable.

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