Program Brings Theatre to Local Schools

During the musical “Smokey Joe’s Café,” the students at P.S. 19 sat at the edge of their seats.

“It was wonderful to see all those moves they did,” said Jason Paredes, 10. “I never saw anybody do those moves.”

All New York City kids deserve the opportunity to enjoy a Broadway show, and, for this reason, the organization Inside Broadway, which has been around 25 years, brings Broadway plays to the city’s public schools every year.

During the 2009 season, 14 schools in Queens collaborated with Inside Broadway to present this 50-minute play directed specially for kids. Throughout the years, the organization has shown plays including “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Bye Bye Birdie,” to about 750,000 students.

Inside Broadway Founder and Executive Director Michael Presser said that “Smokey Joe’s Café” was a popular production and that it was selected because it would work for all ages and grade levels and because it has “wonderful music…from a very important period of American history.”

“Our mission is to really bring live theatre into the lives of children throughout the public school system here in New York,” Presser said. “I think it’s important children have exposure to these types of artworks as part of their educational background.”

Jack Cohn, the special programs coordinator at P.S. 19 in Corona stressed the importance of the organization.

“We have 15 different cultures in this school and we are a low income Title 1 school,” said Chon, highlighting that many Broadway shows are too expensive for a lot of families. “It’s important because it exposes the children to the arts they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to explore.”

The three actors who graced the P.S. 19 auditorium stage in front of 445 students agreed.

“I was one of these kids in NYC. I saw Inside Broadway perform ‘Cats’ in 1995. It was the first musical I ever saw,” said Alex Elisa, a first-time actor with Inside Broadway. “Inside Broadway isn’t just about training future actors, but about training audiences. This helps, even if they end up going to Broadway shows or not.”

Also a member of this year’s cast, Lauren Davidson said that she thinks the show serves another purpose along with bringing theatre to the students. She said that “Smokey Joe’s Café” educates the children about how the country has changed over the years.

“The kids love the show. They’re very enthusiastic,” Davidson said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Fourth grader Paredes, who was chosen to go up on stage with the actors, has had the opportunity to see a Broadway show with his school. He said he admired the actors.

“I felt nervous. I never did that, go up on stage with people watching,” he said. “It was like a real Broadway show and I was part of it.”

Presser said that the students really do get into the show.

“To see a new audience responding to this music is really quite exciting,” he said. “They’re having a great time this year.”

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