When New Rochelle High School’s Theater Works after-school program chooses material for its three annual main-stage productions, it doesn’t always reach for the tried and true. Sure, it’s staged Arsenic and Old Lace. But the 100-plus-member company is just as likely to try ambitious shows like Big River, The Cradle Will Rock, Ragtime, or Hair. And two years ago at the half-century-old Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, the school’s musical theater students debuted a work they’d written, choreographed, composed, and produced themselves.
“The kids learned how the process works, how to change things to make them better,” says Scott Zimmerman, co-advisor with Lisbeth Lynn of Theater Works. “An original piece is the best theater experience you can get, rather than mounting something that’s been done six million times before.”
The program puts strong emphasis on personal development. Students raise their entire budget with fundraising using a range of activities from cake sales to caroling; they make a practice of giving back to the community, donating a portion of their earnings to a charity such as Superstorm Sandy relief. Besides acting, students can get hands-on experience in lighting, costume design, makeup, publicity, and more.
During school hours, they can take formal classes, like set design, through its PAVE (Performing and Visual Arts Education) program. “You may not have heard of them, but our graduates are working in all aspects of the business,” says Zimmerman. “They’re the people behind the cameras, the producers, the set designers.” At least one New Rochelle alum has been in the footlights: Andrew Keltz, who majored in theatre at Northwestern University, appeared off-Broadway in The Golden Land last fall.
Other grads have been accepted at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, Purchase College, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and Los Angeles. Archbisop Stepinac High School