Nick Luckenbaugh here from Atlantic Theater Company in NYC! This year – with the help of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program alongside other amazing supporters – we’ve been able to create a four-year arts education program called Staging Success. This is the largest arts education program in Atlantic’s history, and we’re thrilled to be working on it.
Just a quick overview of the program in case you’re unfamiliar: We’ve partnered with Park Slope Collegiate (a public high school in Brooklyn) to provide in-school theater classes to its entire student body of 300 teens. At each grade level, our teaching artists and administrators work with PSC faculty to create a curriculum that not only teaches theater but incorporates academic curriculum from students’ other classes. Beyond our work in the school, we also offer an intensive afterschool mentorship for select seniors – in which they form their own theater company and write and perform a new play at Atlantic.
Things have been going well with the program so far. Actually, we’ve already completed theater classes for the entire 9th grade. (110 students from four different periods!) Before even getting into acting exercises, students started by creating rules for their classroom ensemble. I really think they came up with some great stuff: “Stay open-minded and listen to others’ opinions.” “Act your age; not your shoe size.” “Take responsibility for your actions.”
I felt fortunate enough to see the culmination of each period’s work in their final presentations – in which each 9th grader performed a few lines of a personal narrative from their English class. They were totally memorized, and even when a few forgot their lines, their classmates jumped right in and started prompting them. It truly was an ensemble effort. I was also impressed that so many students voluntarily chose writing that was intensely personal – with many sharing moments about their loss of parents, bullying, or even mental illness. It really took a lot of courage on their part to share those stories.
After the presentation, 9th graders had a chance to discuss their thoughts on the program. This was the first exposure to theater for almost all of them, so it was heartening to hear so many talk about how they loved Staging Success and that they’re looking forward to working with Atlantic again next year. A few took this a step further, saying that they understood their theater work applied to other parts of their lives – from public speaking to day-to-day interactions with their classmates and teachers. In addition, many students talked about how they felt the program helped them bond with each other in new ways and showed them how “cool and awesome” their English teacher is.
For me, one of the most powerful moments of the day was seeing students who didn’t have mastery of the English language get up and share their personal stories. One of these students came to the United States not long before attending Park Slope Collegiate. At the beginning of the program, he refused to participate out of fear that his classmates would make fun of his accent. But teaching artists continued to encourage him, telling him that he was an important part of the ensemble and that he needed to be heard. It was difficult for him, but he finally began speaking up in class and even participated in the final presentation. What’s more, when other students spoke about their experiences, several (including some who had teased this particular young man in class) singled him out along with similar students – saying that they admired and “looked up to them” for their courage and confidence even when struggling with the language.
Thanks for taking the time to read! I’m looking forward to the next update on the program (10th grade and afterschool programs are already underway!) – but until then, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like more information about Staging Success!