By: David Montgomery, PhD
As we prepare to embark on a new school year, I would like to extend a heartfelt welcome to new and returning students to the Program in Educational Theatre at NYU. For many students, the beginning of the school year is a time filled with excitement and anticipation as they prepare to reacquaint themselves with friends, develop new friendships, and enter the next phase of their educational journey.
Summer 2014 for the Program was one of our busiest yet—with courses, projects, international presentations, and performances. Students attending our London study abroad program, Drama and Youth led by Dr. Philip Taylor, took part in a variety of transformative experiences, including TYA programming at Rose Bruford College, site visits to Oily Cart, stimulating Drama in Education workshops and loads of theatre visits!
Our two annual projects on campus, New Plays for Young Audiences (NPYA) and Looking for Shakespeare, received critical acclaim. For its 17thseason, NPYA presented three new works at the historic Provincetown Playhouse: Pollywog written by John McEneny and directed by Annie Montgomery, Pink Think written by Eric Pfeffinger and directed by Nancy Smithner, and Welcome to Terezin written by Philip Glassborow and directed by Deirdre Lavrakas from the Kennedy Center. The culminating staged readings of each play showcased strong performances from our undergraduate and graduate student actors who worked with the playwrights, directors and dramaturg Cecily O’Neill to help develop the plays. NPYA also collaborated with NYC middle school students as they as they participated in drama workshops connected to the plays, created their own original TYA plays, and provided valuable feedback to the playwrights about their work.
The other major summer project at Washington Square was our young people’s ensemble, Looking for Shakespeare, which presented Twelfth Night. This show was wonderfully mounted and directed by Dr. Jonathan Jones, and produced by alum Robert Stevenson. Adding to this was our ‘Applied Theatre on the Square’ suite of courses, which included a course in Devised Theatre taught by Dr. Nancy Smither, Applied Theatre Praxis taught by Dr. Philip Taylor, and Methods and Materials of Research in Educational Theatre taught by Joe Savlatore. Dr. Amy Cordileone and I also taught courses in directing and drama across the curriculum.
Summer 2014 virtually came and went, but we are exciting for what lies ahead. The Program will continue to offer splendid courses in the three areas of concentrated study: drama education, applied theatre, and play production for artists and educators. Last year, we saw student-teaching transpire throughout NYC schools, teams of Educational Theatre students create applied theatre on a range of social justice issues; an acting troupe travel to schools with adaptations of Shakespeare; various theatre of the oppressed events showcased; directors’ scenes that were presented weekly; and the planning and hosting of an international conference on Teaching Artistry. All of this activity will carry on and grow as we move into 2014 /2015.
For a number of Educational Theatre students, they will be mentored in New York City schools, fulfilling their requirements for teaching certification. This field based work is central to developing professionals, as students plan, implement and evaluate their teaching in partnership with cooperating mentors. Likewise, our wide ranging applied theatre work in community sites, like our prison theatre initiative, will continue with the goal, as stated by Philip Taylor in his book[i], of ‘raising awareness about how we are situated in the world and what we as individuals and as communities might do to make the world a better place.’
Looking toward our exciting production calendar, I will be directing Little Shop of Horrors this fall, which will include a most fitting performance on Halloween. With Rachel Whorton as musical director, it promises to be a whole lot of fun. We invite you to audition for the musical that will be mounted in the Black Box Theatre. Our Shakespeare to Go (STG) troupe will also be inviting you to audition, as adjunct instructor and alum Daryl Embry will direct a Shakespeare play (TBD) that will travel to various schools in New York City, providing a wonderful theatrical experience for young people.
Our annual storytelling events, produced and curated by Regina Ress, will feature renowned artists from around the globe telling their tales, and our Theatrix! project will keep on profiling new work by students, providing them with opportunities to develop their artistry. Last year was highly memorable as Theatrix brought new musicals to life, and this year promises to be equally stimulating. Theatrix provides a wonderful opportunity for collaboration and looking back, I have seen time and time again the ways in which the relationships developed through Theatrix! have turned into professional artistic relationships after graduation (see Student and Alumni Update on ‘Play/Date’ in this newsletter as an example). Also, our Writers’ Roundtable will maintain their exploration of the roles of structure and accountability in the creative processes of playwrights at various stages of their careers. Finally, superb artistic happenings will take place through the Uproar Theatre Corp and Lamplighters, two active Steinhardt clubs that were formed by Educational Theatre students. All this exciting activity reveals that there are many opportunities for students to get involved in projects outside of their course work.
A program as rich as ours is dependent on great teaching and teamwork. I am grateful to my colleagues—Philip Taylor, Nan Smithner, Joe Salvatore, Amy Cordileone and Jonathan Jones—as well the exceptional adjunct faculty and our office administrator Rochelle Brown, for all their hard work, dedication and care.