I accepted an invitation to attend a performance on Sunday of Rosie’s Theater Kids. Rosie is Rosie O’Donnell, who started the organization to introduce theater to kids in the New York area who might otherwise not be exposed to it (many of them children of color). I haven’t researched this in detail, but what started as a program to take a lot of kids to Broadway shows seems to have evolved into a program that brings a lot of kids into rooms with theater-makers to learn about acting, dancing, singing, etc. Some of those who performed and spoke at the Danny and Sylvia Kaye Theater talked about being involved for as much as seven years. Apparently some kids begin in grade school and continue with RT Kids (as it was sometimes referred to) until they graduate high school.
The presentation itself combined kids who clearly were of a professional caliber with kids who were less proficient but no less game. There were a fair number of up-tempo inspirational songs that broke into dance sequences. There were also a monologue, a tap dance for a group to music written in 10/4, and a novelty number – two young women started singing “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp and were joined onstage by a large, well-trained dog who made well-timed contributions.
The part of the presentation that impressed me most? Members of the 2019 graduating class stepped forward and spoke of the colleges by which they were accepted and what they hoped to study. One of the commentators said that just about everybody who participates in Rosie’s program graduates high school and goes on to college. If true, it speaks to the value of studying theater in school, and supports the argument that all young people should have some experience collaborating with fellow students in putting on shows.
I am a good target for this kind of thinking since my experience in a high school where theater was important (Evanston Township High School in a Chicago suburb) had a lot to do with my 1) getting through high school with sanity intact and 2) having the confidence to quickly find my way into the professional world. (My first professional production was of a musical for which I wrote book, music and lyrics called Winging It!, a very free adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds. I was twenty and still in college when it was given as a special project by the Milwaukee Rep. And you’d have to threaten me with bodily harm to get me to show you the script and the score today.)
By the way, if Rosie O’Donnell herself was in attendance at Sunday’s performance, she kept a low profile. She didn’t take stage during the presentation, and I didn’t see her either in the audience or at a post-show reception. Too bad. I would have liked to have applauded what she’s built.
Nice, Jeff, enjoyed your report, and your call for more theater in the schools. Sounds like a great program. Arts in general have been greatly devalued in recent decades, and that should be reversed.
Good post, Jeff, especially nice to hear that most of the kids go on to college. It is really a shame that too many school boards & principals don’t take theater as seriously as they do – let’s say – athletics. My high school was Oak Park – River Forest (Illinois), and, since we’re only a few months apart in age, we would have been attending high school at about the same time. Oak Park had — and I understand still has – a great theater program – the usual fall & spring plays & the winter musical. They also had a little theater, where they held the Dramatic Arts classes and where they allowed students to direct one acts after school. I directed SORRY WRONG NUMBER and, although it went over well, I realized I liked playwriting better than directing. My point is, this is the kind of thing the schools should be encouraging and supporting. If the schools themselves don’t have the money, I’m certain they could get help from community businesses and hold fund raisers like bake sales, car washes, walk a thons, crowd funding platforms, etc. Arts education should be as mandatory as math and science (If those subjects are indeed even still mandatory today).