Broadway needs talent. And audiences. And enthusiasm.
What better way to cultivate all three than by passing on a love for theater to younger generations?
That’s exactly what the Broadway Bridges initiative aims to do, by ensuring that every student in New York City gets to see at least one play or musical before they graduate high school.
A Broadway ticket can cost hundreds of dollars, putting the stages out of reach for many families, especially high school students. Broadway Bridges offers tickets to 10th-graders for $10 a pop.
“At $10 a ticket, just imagine what that would have been for all the students and the chaperones,” Linda Key, a drama teacher at Fordham High School for the Arts in the Bronx, told the Daily News. “It’s a real gift.”
The program, in partnership with New York City Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects and the United Federation of Teachers, is part of the effort to set the stage for a lifelong interaction with Broadway musicals and plays. This year, 19 shows are participating, including “Aladdin,” “Beetlejuice,” “Chicago,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Funny Girl,” “Hadestown,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Into the Woods,” “KPOP,” “The Lion King,” “MJ The Musical,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” among others.
Last spring alone, the program enabled 15,156 students and chaperones to attend Broadway shows, in Broadway Bridges’ most blockbuster season yet, the organization said. At least 65% of the kids surveyed afterward said it was their first time seeing a show. Overall, Broadway Bridges has linked more than 60,000 New York City public school sophomores with a theater seat. Key herself has taken more than 200 10th-grade students to Broadway over the past five years.
Broadway Bridges not only brings their classroom learning alive, but also enables the students to envision a future in which they can participate as performers, stage crew, set designers or the myriad other roles the theater offers, Key said.
“That’s an amazing gift, because I can teach anything I want in the classroom, but until they see it on the Great White Way they don’t really know what it’s like,” Key said. “They see the professional musical and they come back, and they want to replicate that on our stage.”
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The goal, said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, which sponsors the Broadway Bridges program, is “to awaken these students’ eyes to the magic of Broadway and also the potential careers of Broadway.”
Student Selina Antigua, a 16-year-old junior, is living proof that the approach works. Bitten by the musical theater bug in middle school, she started wondering what the possibilities were.
“I never thought I would be into musical theater,” Selina told The News. “I was not originally a drama major. I was a vocal major.”
When she saw “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” as a 10th-grader last year, it changed her perspective.
“It’s very jaw-dropping to see,” the now-11th-grader said. “It not only gives me hope for the future, but also helps me research plays and musicals that I am interested in. It helps me with my knowledge for things.”
St. Martin of the Broadway League notices the students bonding on the trips, comparing notes and experiences after the shows.
“You can see how excited they are together,” she said. “Their energy is captivating and catching.”