I snuck out of work early last Wednesday to attend a special showing of Jesus Hopped the A Train, a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, sponsored by TDF (Theatre Development Fund). I was invited by my good friend Holly Cohen who is a Trustee with the organization. This particular performance was attended primarily by high school upperclassmen involved in an arts curriculum. The ticket price was underwritten by TDF. The kids paid nothing.
They filled the theatre and, almost in unison, proclaimed “Oooooohhhhh!” when the lights suddenly went out and the theatre darkened. Many times during the two-act play, there was the distinctive sound of fingers snapping throughout the house. After the performance, there was a talk-back with members of the cast. “What’s with the snapping?” one actor inquired of the kids. A young man from Democracy Prep Charter School *stood up to explain. “I’m new to the school, but what it means to me is that ‘I’m with you!'”
It’s a challenge and a thrill for the actors to perform for a house packed with students, we were told ahead of time. “They’re VERY responsive,” which can throw off the performers timing.
We adult guests first attended a special lunch at Chez Josephine to meet the staff of TDF and to gain a better understanding of what the afternoon ahead would provide. Daniel Renner, Director of TDF Public Engagement Programs, reminded us of the magic of theatre – that we come together in the dark with other empathetic human beings. “What does it make them feel?” is the key question. Mark Brokaw, the director of the play, also addressed us. It’s his ninth year of mentoring kids in this program. “They have expansive things to say,” he reminded us of the young audience. Being introduced to a high-level, professional performance opens doors for future conversation and creativity.
Why do I consider this Professional Development vs. hooky? Because during that afternoon out of the office I met outstanding members of TDF and grew my network. I took in a moving story of two men incarcerated at Rikers Island through the eyes of teenagers as well as my own. I learned how I, as an individual and business owner, can contribute to this worthy pursuit. And I was re-invigorated by the intelligence of these kids and their enthusiasm for my favorite art form.
TDF is more than the discount ticket booth (TKTS) which is the usual association most people have with this wonderful organization. TDF provides many opportunities for younger audiences to participate in what can be a very expensive cultural medium. When I was a theatre (and art) major in college, my professors spoke about theatre being The Greatest Invalid — that it was always on the verge of dying off. The question has always been, “Who is going to come after us?” TDF is answering that question. Theatre is for everyone, and they’re seeing to it that younger generations will be bitten by the magic of this exhilarating art form.
Here’s a link if you wish to contribute to this worthy cause if you’d like to help in their effort.
*More about Democracy Prep: We also have a partnership with Theatre Development Fund in which our scholars are able to study with high-quality teaching artists and experience live Broadway theater. The arts are not just alive at Democracy Prep, they are thriving.