Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, there was no greater high for me than a day trip to Manhattan. In addition to the requisite stop at my father's favorite knish joint on Houston Street, we would inevitably see a play or a musical on Broadway. I considered myself fortunate to be able to snap photos of myself under marquees, hoard playbills, and produce backyard facsimiles starring my brother and sister. I never imagined that I would actually have the opportunity to perform on Broadway and, subsequently, direct the very people I had gawked at on stage.
For me, there is no substitute for the visceral thrill of theatre. In an age where we tend to isolate more often than not - on line and in line - theatre is a shared experience. Unlike the cinema, it demands audience participation in order to be fully realized. Stories are told through visual, aural and literary cues that ask us to fill in the blanks. Such non-literal, non-linear approaches encourage us to think as individuals; to have fresh ideas; to think, as my friends in management consulting like to say, "outside the box".
Inspired by these thoughts, as well as the excellent education programs at the non-profit theatres I had worked at, I brought the idea of "living study guides" and creativity workshops tied to Broadway shows to the good folks at Theatre Direct International. With their unflagging support, my partners (producer Pam Pariseau and study guide author Peter Royston) and I created BROADWAY CLASSROOM.
Now entering its second year, BROADWAY CLASSROOM offers ten interactive workshops (based on the National Standards For Arts Education) tied to 16 Broadway shows. In between directing jobs at Virginia's Signature Theatre, New York Stage and Film and a new national tour of "Peter Pan", I have been truly energized watching the program grow at a faster rate than I ever would have imagined. In fact, I have found that the program serves as a constant reminder of why I love what I do.
Although BROADWAY CLASSROOM began with an influx of student groups, we have seen our audiences expand to include senior citizens, corporate groups, and community theatre groups. The common denominator amongst them is the simple desire to free their creative spirit and unlock some of the mystery behind Broadway.
Furthermore, from July 20-22, we produced the first annual BROADWAY TEACHING LAB, a three-day intensive series of interactive workshops, seminars, and observation. Broadway producers, performers, and creators met with 50 high school teachers from across the country at NYU's Tisch School of Music Theatre Writing. The three days included conversations with RENT & DE LA GUARDA producer Jeffrey Seller, SPOTCO president Drew Hodges, TWELFTH NIGHT and VIOLET composer Jeanine Tesori, YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN and THE WILD PARTY composer Andrew Lippa, and the casts of CONTACT, KISS ME KATE, and RENT. Lab events also included observing a special rehearsal of CONTACT, a THEATRE GAME FRENZY with the Broadway Classroom staff, an arts integration program, and a Music Theatre International presentation on new production methods for schools. Lab participants attended a cross section of New York's theatre offerings and were joined by students from NYU's musical theatre writing summer program for several discussions. The eclectic mixture of talent, passion, and personalities made for a truly inspirational experience. This is the sort of knowledge and inspiration that nourishes passion and dedication. Hopefully, the ripple effects will be felt by thousands of students.
With teachers that are also Broadway professionals, I can clearly see the BROADWAY CLASSROOM program reaching people in new ways. We have kept in touch with hundreds of former participants, encouraging their creative pursuits, from theatre to business. I haven't taken any photographs under marquees yet but, if I can pass along just a bit of the thrill I had when I was a kid through this program, I'm a happier guy.
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